Looking For The Awesome – 17. The House That Jack Built

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


The young black man from Louisville had become a man. As a teenager he had thrown his life and talent towards boxing. He rose through the ranks of amateur boxing to reach the heights. In late 1960 he defeated a Polish fighter to win the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. Flush with success, he became a professional and rose undefeated towards national acclaim. Yet his heart was still dark. He returned a conquering hero to the deep South only to find that he was unwelcome to sleep in white’s only hotels, and to face white street gangs. In disgust, Cassius Clay threw his gold medal into the Ohio River. He sought out inner peace and understanding by attending religious speeches by the emerging Nation of Islam. He met that young firebrand named Malcolm X. and was soon taking lessons in the Islam religion. He found peace and a purpose in his new religion.

After the horror of his time at DC, Jack sought peace and a new resolve at Atlas, he found his purpose at Atlas. After a couple months doing space opera, he embraced the new style post-atomic BEM story. The Atlas monsters were powerful, and plentiful. Once Jack settled into the Atlas fantasy books, the monsters were endless; 3 or 4 a month, for a couple years with odd names like Googam, Monstro, and Grottu, or simpler like Sandman, Colossus, or Hulk; many names that would be reused at a later date. The six fantasy titles soon were reduced to four totally interchangeable titles. Journey Into Mystery, Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense all opened with Kirby monsters tales, and Kirby covers. They were loud, colorful and eye-catching. Every issue’s cover was a beautiful monster poster reaching out from the newsstands grabbing those dimes from the grubby little fingers of kids returning empty bottles for 2 cents deposit.

The formula was easy; big monster in the center surrounded by humans scurrying away in fear. Kirby remembered: “The monster books gave me the opportunity to draw things out of the ordinary. Monster books were a challenge–what kind of monster would fascinate people? I couldn’t draw anything that was too outlandish or too terrible. I never did that. What I did draw was something intriguing. There was something about this monster that you could live with. If you saw him, you wouldn’t faint dead away. There was nothing disgusting in his demeanor. There was nothing about him that repelled you. My monsters were lovable monsters. I gave them names and some were good. They made sales, and that’s always been my prime object in comics. I had to make sales in order to keep myself working. And so I put all the ingredients in that would pull in sales. It’s always been that way.”

Formulaic but fearsome

Atlas as a company was still reeling from the forced downsizing, with only 8 titles a month there was no way to get traction. Goodman wanted comics done on the cheap, and that’s what he got. They continued to cut page rates until many artists would no longer work for them. But by 1960, they seemed to right the ship, or at least find a balance. The work force had been cut to the bone, but the core of pros left was very flexible and could fill many roles. So they each got an acceptable amount of work. But they were not equals, people like Don Heck, and Dick Ayers and even Steve Ditko filled in their penciling work by inking, while Jack Kirby‘s role as lead penciler kept expanding. The 7-8 page opening story grew to 12-13 pages, plus Kirby was given romance, and back-up western, and war stories.

Atlas must have been happy; Kirby’s storytelling was always PG. His horrors weren’t horrible. His monsters were gruesome without being gory, his heroes never had erections at the wrong time (or the right time) and his heroines, no matter how busty never had costume malfunctions. It seems the Comics Code had no effect on Jack Kirby. Kirby wanted to entertain, not shock.

Stan Lee was working with a smaller crew, paying less for work, and he was still despondent. It seems that without fail every month or so, Martin Goodman is threatening to close down the comic division. Stan’s office is now a small cubbyhole at the end of a long corridor, as far from Martin Goodman as possible. Jack Kirby didn’t become the dominant force because Stan suddenly realized his genius; Jack became dominant because he offered Stan what Stan needed most—time and product, plus his comics sold better than the others.

Dick Ayers says that during one of the down times, Stan Lee called him into the office and told him that the industry was all but finished, and that they needed to jump the sinking ship. Dick says he took Stan at his word and quit. He found a new job with the Post Office. Once again Stan let many of his people go like Al Williamson, Jack Davis, John Forte, and Joe Sinnott. Long time inker Chris Rule was let go. Downgraded were pencillers like Vince Colletta to an inker along with people like Steve Ditko, and Don Heck who took on inking jobs to fill it their income. Soon, Stan called Dick and asked him if he would help out by inking some of Kirby’s stories, that plus occasional filler stories brought back Dick to the fold; another legend born of need.

During this Atlas’ mini-implosion, production man Sol Brodsky was let go. He wound up as founding editor for a new humor magazine Cracked. Cracked was another in a long line of Mad Magazine clones, this time published by slick magazine publisher Robert Sproul’s Major Publishing. Sol hired many of the Atlas cast-offs, such as Al Williamson, Bill Everett, Syd Shores, and Al Jaffee. Sol managed to get Jack Kirby to provide one story. It appeared in the 14th issue dated June 1960. It was a 5-page spoof of the then popular TV panel shows such as “What’s My Line” Jack’s caricatures are spot-on, and he was again doing Hollywood Kirby style. Jack used duo shade paper for added shading tones, giving a more commercial art effect to the drawings. It’s unknown why Kirby only produced the one story—perhaps Stan Lee wasn’t happy with the moonlighting for Sol.

Is this Kirby?????

Though Stan had fewer titles to produce, he also had almost no support people, plus he was no longer buying scripts from outside sources, so Stan was forced to write much more than he was used to. While Stan focused on the teen humor titles and a few creepy fantasy stories for Steve Ditko, for the adventure titles, he turned most of the fantasy writing over to his brother, Larry Lieber. This only worked because Jack Kirby was able to plot most of his own stories, and it showed. Jack’s tales had a formula and feel all their own. The themes, and plot elements were often borrowed from fantasy themes and concepts he had done at DC or Harvey—sentient robots, mythological beings like the Roc, or Rock Men from Easter Island, childlike aliens, all made new appearances at Atlas; radio astronomers and personality changes taken from Sky Masters; and mutants, sorcerers, and inter-dimensional travel galore reoccurred frequently, and of course, recent movies. Jack recalls; “Monster and superstition stories were a necessary thing. Comic historian Nick Caputo has studied them. “The Yellow Claw stories have stylistic traits that point to Kirby as writer. Each story opens with a prologue, something Kirby used in later stories he wrote himself in the 1970s. There are other traits as well, but I’m fairly certain that Kirby initially wrote his own stories at Atlas, and many early ones when he returned in 1959”. Sometime later he began working over Leiber scripts, although how much he may have changed in the pencil stage is undetermined.” Many of the monster stories share the same confessional nature as his romance stories. Titles like “I Created Mechano” and “I Was a Decoy for Pildor,” personalized and humanized the stories. Jack says: “I enjoyed producing them. The work was fun and I could come up with new ones very quickly. They were easy to do and the fan mail was very good. Although they weren’t as challenging as the other stories I had done, they gave me a chance to work out a few ideas.” The filler stories penned by Lieber and drawn by Heck or Reinman were more in the space opera mode reminiscent of pre-Atomic sci-fi. And the Lee/Ditko closing story had a creepier, more ironic style similar to the TV show Twilight Zone that was taking the watchers by storm. Another factor that made Kirby so valuable was that Kirby’s pencils, even when stretched to the limit, were still tight enough for these artists/inkers to finish easily. The pencils were tight enough to follow but not so tight that the inkers couldn’t add in and embellish with their own techniques. Dick Ayers explained that when he once simply traced a Kirby western that Stan called him in and made it plain that he wanted the inkers to add in their personalities. “Do with Kirby’s westerns what you do with the monster stories! If I wanted someone to trace Kirby’s penciling I’d hire anyone off the street! More important, Kirby’s stories were just so much better. The action was unparalleled, and the covers unrivaled. The loss of Joe Maneely must have been a huge personal blow to Stan, but as luck would have it, Kirby’s personal problems at DC landed an even more productive creator into Stan’s lap. Stan had a stallion and this horse wanted to run. After the DC debacle, Kirby had every reason to want to shine for Atlas.

Silly yes, but they sold

On the adventure strips, Stan had left Kirby alone or partnered with his brother Larry Lieber, but the romance titles were Stan’s bailiwick, and when Stan assigned Kirby to the romance books they were suddenly partnered. It is there that Stan and Jack began to work out a method to maximize both talents. It was common at S&K’s studio for the writers and artists to have story conferences where they all traded forth ideas and stories. It became unnecessary for a writer to supply a complete script since the artists already knew the plotline. The pacing of the story was also left up to the artist rather than the writer to work the story into the page count needed for the comic. This was followed by adding in dialogue. This was how Kirby produced thousands of stories back in the days of the S&K studios. Very quickly Stan’s and Jack’s work practice became the Simon and Kirby model. This allowed Stan to write and edit more books due to not having to pace out all the stories for the artists. After they discussed the stories, Jack would draw them and Stan would then dialogue them according to Kirby’s panel structures, and the bare plot. The Marvel Method, as it became known as, was simply the Simon and Kirby method, placing a large amount of responsibility on the artist to tell the story within the editor’s parameters. As Walter Geier had described it at Mainline; ‘They were Jack’s plots. I just supplied the dialogue”. It also freed up Stan for more stories.

In a moment of clarity Stan Lee admitted; “Mine was the task of originating the basic concept, and then writing the dialogue…However, I’ve long been privileged to collaborate with some of the most talented artists of all, artists who would take my rough-hewn plots and refine them into the illustrated stories…Heading the list of such artists…is Jack Kirby.

Don Heck had returned to Marvel at the same time as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. He recalled one difference; “I’d been so used to working from scripts, but when I returned to Marvel Stan said, “I’m going to give you a synopsis.”  Jack Kirby was used to something like that because he was also a writer.  Some people might not have liked the stuff he did later, but he did some terrific stuff with all of his different characters, like back when he was doing Fighting American and all the rest of his early stuff so it was easy for him.”  …”After a while Stan Lee used to give you the first three pages, tell you who the character was fighting, and give you the last couple of pages so you’d know how it ended. And in between you’d put about fifteen page of stuff.  And at the time, I thought, “Oh, my God! This’ll never work!” ….. “It’s a freer way of working.”

It was during this monster phase that an unusual thing happened. Sales began to rise, and management took notice. The most amazing was that it wasn’t happening at DC, Dell, or the other companies. The idea of expansion became possible.

Borrowing from Prize       Credits appear a new team

It’s not surprising that several romance stories at Atlas were knock-offs of Kirby romance stories from Prize.

In early 1960, Martin Goodman cancelled a long running western title and asked for a new one. Wyatt Earp had run for 29 issues starting in 1955, based on the real life lawman made popular due to movies and a TV show starring the dashing Hugh O’Brian. The early issues were drawn by an assortment of Atlas regulars, Joe Maneely, John Severin, and Norman Maurer, but by issue ten Dick Ayers came along and made it his own. It was one of the few titles that survived the implosion unscathed. While other titles relied on inventoried stories, Dick Ayers continued creating new stories for Wyatt Earp. Jack Kirby started providing covers with issue #22. Issue #25’s cover featured the first collaboration of Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers on the inks. Issue #29, dated June 1960 was its last. Though the TV show would last thru 1961, the comic title had run its course, perhaps due to an over abundance of Earp titles from other companies. Dick Ayers, who had been on this strip longest, lamented as to how he was being paid less in 1959 as it ended then he was in ‘56, when he started.

The new title was to be The Rawhide Kid. This was an update of an earlier Atlas cowboy title, which was caught in the implosion crunch. The Kid was one of dozens of generic cowboy heroes that Atlas published in the 50’s. All of them seemed to be a “kid” of some sort. Dick Ayers was told by Stan Lee that he would be the artist on the new series. Dick was thrilled to be given a new book so soon after the last one was cancelled. Things had been tight for the Ayers family with Dick struggling with filler strips and the low paying inking jobs over Kirby. He says that one day he ran into Jack Kirby while delivering some Sky Masters pages and told Kirby how excited he was about getting the Kid gig. Kirby paid him for the SM pages, congratulated him on the Kid and made his leave. What happened next is pure conjecture. In his bio, Dick Ayers says that later he gets a call from Stan Lee. “Dick? Stan here, I have to tell you…I’m having Kirby pencil the Rawhide Kid and you do the inking. You’ll make Jack’s western look real good!”

The Rawhide Kid by Jack and Dick     Cobra looking for Thor?

If true, one certainly can’t blame Dick for feeling that way, but the reality is that only Stan Lee could make that call. Kirby had no sway over Stan to get assignments. He was a freelancer just like Ayers and the others. But is it possible that armed with the knowledge of a new title, that Kirby went into Stan’s office and made a winning pitch for a different type of western, one more to Kirby’s style; a more entertaining approach; perhaps a tossed bone to stop Kirby from working for Sol over at Cracked Magazine. Stan was certainly happy with Kirby’s results. It’s very possible, and if true, it shows another facet to Kirby’s Atlas tenure. Jack’s new ability to pitch ideas to Stan and Stan’s willingness to follow Kirby’s lead would become important. But this shouldn’t shock anyone; Jack says that he had been pitching ideas to Stan from the very beginning; a return for super-heroes as an example. “I felt I had to regenerate things. I began to build a new line of super-heroes…I was at the stage now where I had to fight for those things and I did. I had to regenerate the entire line. “I felt that there was nobody there that was qualified to do it” Jack told Will Eisner in an interview.

Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Rafael in their book Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book talks about the genesis of Lee/Kirby partnership.

“By audaciously combining genres and ignoring the limitations that had settled in on the super-hero, Lee and Kirby were free to foist on their readership a fantasy setting better realized than anything that had come before in the American comic book. Lee and Kirby were presiding over the kind of world-building that would become commonplace in movies and television.”

Stan and Jack never really pointed out the specific influences that went into creating this new universe, It’s hard to even know if they had a big picture, or if it grew organically as they went along, but I suspect they did not go into it without some blueprint and yes it was a world-building template taken from TV. In the late 1950’s television was dominated by a series of shows unlike any produced before. They shared a studio, they shared a producer, they shared a writer and they shared a personal vision. These were the shows produced by Warner Bros. Television Division and watched over by William T. Orr, and Roy Huggins. They came in two distinct genres. The western genre was covered by Cheyenne, Maverick, Lawman, Sugarfoot, Colt 45, and the Alaskans. And then there were the modern day detective/adventure stories as found in 77 Sunset Strip, Bourbon Street Beat, Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye. What was unique was the irreverent tone, the personal bickering, romance, the self-deprecating humor, and the odd little insertions of pop culture. They also shared a self-contained universe where they would cross-over into each other’s shows.

Roy Huggins explains how he built up Cheyenne by recycling scripts from Warner Brothers movies such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), often simply inserting the character of Cheyenne Bodie (Clint Walker) into familiar stories from the studio vaults. These elements brought the series a sense of gravitas and a measure of respect as an “adult” western, as opposed to the typical sing-a-song, shoot-em-up, and kiss the horse goodnight, and made it the studio’s first full-fledged hit. Similarly Stan and Jack energized Rawhide Kid by recycling old S&K western stories and old Atlas western stories plus added in a more modern sense of character and morality.

As with all success, the mimics are sure to follow. Huggin’s westerns were so successful that soon every studio was pumping out copies. The most successful was probably The Rebel, starring Nick Adams as Johnny Yuma, a troubled, brooding ex-Confederate soldier trying to find peace in a fractured post war country.

Nick Adams was short in stature, and insecure in his image, a factor that he felt kept him from superstardom. As Johnny Yuma, he was a fast to anger avenger, bent on seeing justice is done for the oppressed. The tales are as gritty as would be found on TV.

It is with The Rawhide Kid that for the first time we get to see the evolving Lee/Kirby symbiosis in action. In a pattern that would play out repeatedly over the next few years we see the two talents blending in a specific template. Kirby supplying much of the plotting, in fact, the origin gimmick is a direct retelling of the origin of Bullseye, the Simon/Kirby western scout of a couple years earlier. The series also borrowed heavily from the Rebel TV series. A young orphan named Johnny Bart is taken in by an older relative who teaches him to become the best shot in the west. When the relative is murdered in a cowardly fashion, the young man goes after the villains and avenges the murder. Later, both Bullseye and the Rawhide Kid are mistakenly branded as outlaws, so they must travel a lonely road, avoiding the law and evildoers as well. The Kid’s short stature, and shorter fuse, is also used to good effect and his image never matches the reality; an aspect used effectively on The Rebel.

What is also apparent is that the Rawhide Kid has more personality than Bullseye. Like Johnny Yuma his back story has more drama, and more pathos than found in earlier Simon/Kirby characters. He shows regret, and longing, and my god does he talk to himself. This is not a stoic Kirby hero, this is a brooding emotional volcano. The dialogue is snappier, the back story more developed, and the pacing a bit slower and more dramatic. The stories are more complex and dramatic. We see a true blending of talents, one making up for the weakness of the other. Stan was never really good with big picture concepts, while Kirby, in his adventure tales was never strong in the small, personality traits, and human interactions that make for a more fulfilling story. Much like the best blending of lyricist and tunesmiths, the sum was stronger than the individual parts.

Likewise early on John Lennon and Paul McCartney began collaborating on writing songs. They would cut school and head over to Paul’s house where they would exchange lyrics and work out basic tunes on the piano. Many of the songs they wrote between this time and when Beatlemania began to take off in 1963, were co-written equally; as Paul said, ‘eyeball to eyeball’. Compositions from this period include ‘She loves You’, ‘There’s A Place’, ‘From Me To You’, ‘Thank You Girl’, ‘I’ll Get You’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, ‘Little Child’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. John explained “All the better songs that we have written – the ones that anybody wants to hear – those were co-written. Sometimes half the words are written by me and he’ll finish them off. We go along a word each, practically.” Individual qualities become obvious; McCartney’s easy going harmonies, and John’s cutting iconoclastic personality, but the finished product has its own flavor and feeling blending both influences seamlessly creating its own oeuvre.

Rawhide Kid #17 had a cover date of Aug. 1960. Kirby would provide 3 stories and 18 pages for this new title. This was Kirby’s first cover to cover comic at Atlas, since the pre-implosion days. This time the series would continue for 19 years. Kirby would slip in sci-fi bits, and pseudo-super-heroics in the series, just as he did in Bullseye. Later adventures would also swipe from other Kirby plots, but often they would steal plots directly from the Rebel TV series. Stan assigned Dick Ayers to maintain a oughhewn look to the inking. The team was set. Jack needed some more work.

First issue #17 I’m confused              Rawhide Kid origin looks mighty familiar

One of the few comic companies not bothered by the 50’s Wertham witch hunt was Gilberton Publishing. They had been publishing Classics Illustrated since 1941 and never a discouraging word was heard. They were a class act putting out clean literate comic book adaptations of classic literature, a young man’s best friend when in need of a quick book report. But they were also somewhat stodgy and hard to deal with due to their desire for historical accuracy and obeisance to the source material. Kirby started working there in late 1960 doing a long 45 pg. adaptation of The Last Days of Pompeii. He followed this with 25 or so pages on the Civil War for a Classics illustrated Special. It’s easy to see Kirby’s natural inclinations being muzzled by the strict grid layout and need for accurate details like clothing and architecture. The artwork lacks any sizzle, and even the inking by Dick Ayers is muted and dull. The presentation more resembled a text book than a comic. Gilberton was not a good match for Jack, whose strength was in improvisation and spontaneity, but it filled in a couple hundred pages of Jack’s time. Kirby also supplied some filler material for several issues of Classics factual series World Around Us. The best work he did for Gilberton was some spot illustrations for a Guy de Maupassant short story, The Duel. This appeared in issue #30 of World Around Us titled Undersea Adventures. Strangely, the story has nothing to do with any undersea adventure. It is about boastfulness, cowardice, lost honor and a subsequent suicide, a very depressing and dark story for a Gilberton comic. Kirby used a very heavy, almost woodcut style, that added to the weighty subject. A discouraged Jack left Gilberton very quickly.

Imagine the editorial interference needed to demand the changes on this panel! The Kirby original is amazing

Jack broke out the heavy pencil     typical Classic’s panel

Besides the monster tales in 4 books, Jack now had a couple romance titles, a complete western title (18+ pages) plus the odd back-up western story, another nice rebound from a down period. Stan Lee had been true to his word and given Kirby all the work he could, and in return, Atlas was getting a personality facelift. And that facelift was thanks to Jack Kirby. Atlas books had taken on a rugged, powerful and easily recognizable product look, and sales were slowly growing. Atlas had become a recognizable brand. The next attempt at something new was different. Looking back, it could be called a failure, but it was the first faltering step leading to what would become an onslaught.

In late 1960, the eyes of the industry were turned inward. The .10 cent retail price of a comic had held steady for 30 years. Yet the price of raw materials, labor and shipping had gone up. Dell Comics, whose kid centric books made them an industry leader decided to make a change. They decided to raise the cover price to .15 cents an issue. This fifty percent increase shocked the industry; many saw only bad things following. The owners of Dell sent a letter to retailers and selected magazines to help the public to understand.

Executive Vice President, Dell Publishing Co., Inc.

“Dell To Back The New 15 (cent) Comic Price With The Biggest Nationwide Consumer TV And Radio Advertising And Promotion Campaign In History!” In 1929, when Dell Publishing first introduced the four color comic – at 10 cents – candy bars, cokes and ice cream cones were 5 cents. Hamburgers and yoyos were 10 cents and cigerettes and movies were 15 cents. Today every one of these items has at least doubled or tripled in price.” EVERYTHING’S UP BUT COMICS!

“Yet the comic alone of all these popular items has remained at a dime. This despite the fact that kids’ allowances have increased to keep pace with higher prices. The average weekly allowance in 1939 a week – and nowadays the going rate for doing odd jobs and babysitting is at least 25 cents an hour. Meanwhile paper and printing costs have gone up…you are paying much higher salaries and overhead – in other words, the time has come, indeed it is long overdue, for the comics to be put on a more profitable basis. We feel that Dell, as the leader in the comics field, should take the first step. Since 1929, Dell Comics have published well over 5 billion copies. WALT DISNEY COMICS alone passed the one billion mark last year! In sales dollars and cents comics are a $5,000,000 a year business – a big money industry. Yet the publisher, the distributor and the newsdealer are no longer reaping commensurate profits. Therefore, Dell, the leader of the comics field, is taking the initiative to improve your profit picture and to put new life in comic sales. Effective December 15 (1960), all new Dell comics will be raised to 15 cents. In a few months all Dell Comics will be selling at the more profitable price. This means 1 1/2 cents more for you on every Dell comic sold -a whopping 60 percent increase in profits! Better yet – this new 15 cent price will give you a 26.6 percent margin of profit – a greater profit than you now make not only on 10 cent comics, but on any periodical you sell! We are convinced that customers will continue to buy our comics at 15 cents. Dell’s world-famous “character” comics have been the backbone of the comic industry since comics began – the famous Walt Disney family, the Warner Bros family, Little Lulu, Tarzan – and the more recent TV sensations, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear. These and many more television and movie comics are the PRE-SOLD favorites which have become household words to both parents and children, appearing exclusively in Dell Comics. They are certainly powerful enough to command the increase in price!”

”We are confident that this new profit picture for publisher, distributor and dealer will help stimulate a whole new attitude toward the handling of comics. It was only ten years ago that paperbacks were all 25 cents and lumped together indiscriminately. Today best-selling paperback titles are handled as individual items of merchandise, priced two or three times higher, and paperback profits are soaring accordingly. The same revolution is now due for comics. They too are “books” and should get the individual treatment they deserve. Dell Comics tested the 15 cent cover price on the West Coast last year. In some areas sales increased…in others there was a decrease. We learned from this test that a major promotion campaign would assure its complete success. Therefore, Dell Comics has prepared a mammoth comics advertising-promotion campaign, the like of which has never been seen in this industry. Detailed plans will be announced shortly. The period of price change is the time of challenge – the time to get to work for greater profits! Give your 15 cent comics prime space… set up better-than-ever comic displays… promote the pre-sold characters to the kids, and the high-quality of the Dell Comics to the parents… play up the TV tie-in titles and movie hits… reorder the best sellers… show off Dell comics for what they are… there’s no better buy for 15 cents in your store today!”

William Callahan was an optimist! And he was wrong.

That’s about as good a face one might make for a 50% increase. It has been speculated that the Dell price increase was a major failure; one from which they would not recover. Dell had been the dominant company, yet when the price increased, sales fell horribly. Some consider this one reason for Marvels rise as buyers were actively looking elsewhere to spend their dimes. DC and Marvel split the difference and raised their prices to .12 by late 1961. Dell continued the .15 price for a year, and then dropped it to .12 when the other companies raised theirs. This led to interfamily problems between Dell and partner Gold Key that drove them to separate, thus increasing the decline of Dell and the Gold Key comic lines. They also failed to notice the genre changes happening in 1961. They were no longer major players by the mid-sixties. It has been said that the sales of the .15 centers was so bad that their scarcity puts them into a whole different ballpark for collectors.

In late 1960, the United States elected the youngest President in history. This would end a long 8 year stretch of psychic stagnation and re-energize the country.

A bad beginning     Beatles take Germany

The end of 1960, maybe as late as Jan. 1961, Stan ordered up a new title. Amazing Adventures was by all appearances, another generic Atlas monster title. It would feature the ubiquitous Kirby monster on the cover, and a Kirby lead story, a 13 pager with monsters like, Torr, Manoo, Robot X, and Monsteroso. But tucked away in the back pages, a new recurring character appeared. Doctor Droom was the new ongoing heroic character. He was a master of the occult and mysticism. Like any number of earlier characters he received his powers as a bequeathment from an old lama, slowly dying in his monastery in the Himalayas. This take off of the novel/movie Lost Horizon is not particularly original; Kirby had used a Shangri-la type locale in stories of every genre along the way. The hero, Anthony Droom is an American doctor who is compelled to treat a dying Tibetan lama. But first he must pass some rigorous and frightful tests. Once he passes the tests, he meets the lama, who explains that he was brought here to take up the mantle of protector against the evil forces of the occult. The first story, the origin issue is ok, especially thanks to some interesting effects by inker Steve Ditko. At the end Dr. Droom is transformed from a normal white American to a bald Asian with heavy eyeliner. With each new issue, the stories floundered and failed. The biggest problem is that this battler of the occult never meets any occult villains. The villains of his tales are an underground alien civilization, an alien hidden among men trying to gain political power, and another alien visitor who is defeated by a demolition ball. Dr. Droom’s only obvious power is that of hypnotism, as that is how he conquers the bad guys. This failure of imagination and promise is unlike anything seen from Kirby. And it appears that Kirby is solely to blame here. There is no evidence in the plotting or dialogue of any Stan Lee influence. This seems to have been a solo Kirby project, with perhaps some assistance from Larry Lieber. The premise is interesting enough, and Kirby could do occult and mysticism, but he was caught up in his Atlas alien monster sci-fi mode and couldn’t break free. This can also be seen in some other tales dealing with sorcerers, like in the first Challengers story where though the villain is a sorcerer, the actual tale is straight sci-fi. But a series built on the premise of magic and evil darkness can’t survive without actual magic. But once again we see evidence that Stan Lee allowed Jack Kirby the freedom to try new concepts on his own. Dr. Droom is considered by most historians as the first Marvel super-hero, though others disagree since he showed no real powers other than hypnotism.

On Feb. 25, 1961, the last daily of Sky Masters was published. Jack’s newspaper strip career ended. Jack cobbles a story from pre-existing art and the strip limps home.

Jack was again producing at breakneck speed. The monsters continued; even diapered ones. Roz would tell of Jack’s routine of starting around noon and working almost non-stop til 4-5 in the morning, with the occasional all-nighter where she would awaken at 7:30 and find the other side of the bed vacant. She would physically go to Kirby and force him to go to bed, yet after just a few hours of sleep; Jack was back up and at the board. Jack was busy, but never too busy to ignore family. Weekends would find them at the beach or Coney Island. Every year they would take a couple weeks vacation to Aunt Anita’s in Liberty, New York. On odd weekends, family members would visit their home in Long Island to get out of the city. Uncle Dave was like a second father to the kids; visiting almost every weekend, taking Neal fishing, or Susan to the zoo. It was a close family. Kirby never missed a family affair, whether it be a kids birthday or a school project that required parental assistance. Kirby used to wow the elementary kids by drawing caricatures and funny pictures for them. The one great advantage of working at home.

Why does a dragon wear a diaper? Does anyone complain if he shits on the yard?

Life on the road for a band was tough, the hours were killers. Paul remembers his time in Germany when the English kids were set free from their grey boring British middle class upbringing. “Most important was sex…was one of the first things ’cause we were kids just let off the leash, you know. And then there was like, the amount of music we played — we played — the sheer amount of music. Some evenings I think we probably…we played eight hour periods ’cause you’d come on and another band would take an hour and you’d take an hour, so we probably played four hours but we had to stretch it over an eight hour period. And that’s an awful long time, man, to play.”

Despite the learning experience the hoped for breaks didn’t come. They returned to England and returned as just another house band.

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Looking For The Awesome – 16. Kirby’s Kosmic Mystery

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


“A year before Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth, and nine years before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, astronomer FRANK DRAKE launched one of the most intriguing space explorations of the millennium. On April 8, 1960, in a windswept valley near Green Bank West Virginia, Drake flipped switches, twisted knobs, and then pointed an 85-foot radio telescope at two nearby stars- Epsilon Eridani, and Tau Ceti. His aim: to listen for signs of communication technology emanating from a civilization beyond Earth.”

So begins the web page introduction of SETI-The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence began that cold and lonely day back in 1960. Dr. Drake’s research and life long dream became a part of the pop culture in 1985, thanks to Dr. Carl Sagan’s fictional book CONTACT, and the subsequent 1997 movie, starring Jodie Foster.

In the story, Sagan tells of an eccentric, combative scientist, endlessly searching the skies for some sign of extra-terrestrial intelligence. When apparent contact is made, the scientist must convince a doubting scientific and military community. Finally convincing the authorities that an alien intelligence has initiated contact, the go ahead is given for an attempt at a rendezvous. The scientist is launched and apparently makes contact with an alien life force, but upon returning to Earth, must face a disbelieving, and skeptical world.

So what does Jack Kirby have to do with this, and why any great mystery? In what might be the strangest case of Kirby’s prognostication wizardry, he beat Dr. Drake to the punch in starting SETI, and he wrote Dr. Sagan’s story 25 years earlier.

Jack Kirby and the master Wallace Wood

The mystery begins in late 1958, Jack Kirby is hired to draw the syndicated strip SKY MASTERS of the SPACE FORCE. The strip, to be written by brothers, Dick and Dave Wood, penciled by Kirby and inked by the master, Wally Wood. The strip was noteworthy primarily for the authenticity and technical assistance provided by NASA. As time went on, the Wood Bros. had less and less to do with the scripting, until the storytelling became completely Kirby’s.

First in 1937 who knew?

On March 18th, 1960, towards the end of the run, a storyline began that would run thru July 6, 1960. This storyline entitled “Message From Space” begins with Sky Masters being introduced to Dr. Martin Strickland, an eccentric loner scientist who has gone off to a remote part of the country to conduct his own research. The research involves using a radio telescope to listen to cosmic garble for signs of intelligent life from outer space. As Dr. Strickland tells Sky “I’ve discovered a definite pattern— a repetition of sounds—“Sky responds hesitantly “You mean…you’ve received signals by radio telescope from outer space?” To which the Dr. answers “More than that Sky! If I’m right, thinking creatures have sent us a message from out there!”

The message that the Dr. has received comes from the star Tau Ceti, and the message contains the location for “rendezvous”. Sky asks Marty why he has kept this message a secret. Marty replies;” Sky….what does history tell us happens to humans when one strange culture comes in contact with another? …They battle each other, Sky! Do we dare rendezvous with an unknown culture without knowing positively they are not hostile?” If I had one reason strong enough to warrant risking contact with a possible hostile culture, Sky.” To which Sky replies; I have one…If we don’t accept the challenge, Marty, we’ll be like wild animals forever listening in a space jungle afraid of ever replying to each other.” “Of course! Let’s head for the Cape.” Strickland answers.

Basics of a radio telescope

After a contentious and at times, quite philosophical debate, among and between the scientific and military communities, it is decided that Dr. Strickland will attempt contact, on a ship piloted by Sky Masters. Once in orbit, they begin receiving more signals from space, then a new blip appears on their radar, a space craft hovering a million miles away. Again Strickland’s wariness intrudes and Sky comes up with an idea to bluff the aliens into thinking we are more advanced than we are. They will bounce a signal off the moon to give the impression that we are colonizers. After receiving the bounced message, the aliens release an atomic bomb that explodes harmlessly in space. After debating the nature of the explosion, Sky surmises that it was a thermonuclear handshake across space, and they rig their own nuclear blast in response. After the return blast, the alien ship moves away, and Sky pilots his ship home. When they make their report about the alien encounter, they are met with skepticism and doubt over what they observed, one scientist responds “The country’s full of irresponsible eccentrics who would squander a king’s ransom searching for space people…” “You have no actual proof of another intelligent life in space.” And the story ends with Dr Strickland, in a huff, taking his charts and graphs and retiring to his island to find a way to decode the blips and to send intelligent messages back to Tau Ceti.

This is some of the most ambitious storytelling Kirby had ever done, full of plot twists, personality conflicts, and deeper philosophical contemplations than ever seen in his comic book work. The detail and technical aspects are amazing.

After reading the story, I was of course struck by the many similarities with the Sagan book. The details surrounding Dr. Strickland’s research, and the actual SETI program was too coincidental, and I first assumed that SETI research must have been well known at the time that Kirby wrote the story. But, being the stickler for facts that I am, I decided to verify, and this is where it got weird!!!!

From the web site mentioned above, I found out that the first SETI project, Project Ozma, did not begin until April of 1960, more than 2 months after Jack Kirby began drawing the story – as verified by then inker Dick Ayers, whose records indicate that he began inking the first days strip at the beginning of Feb. 1960. This first project, run by an eccentric loner, Dr. Drake, in an isolated corner of this country, involved using a radio telescope, targeted on the star Tau Ceti !!!!

Science or God

The more I read about the SETI program, the more coincidences I found, so my assumption was that somehow, either through the project’s public relations, or possibly Kirby’s NASA contacts, Jack had gotten wind about the project and quickly came up with the storyline, in an attempt at making Sky Masters as topical as possible. Yet something didn’t fit, even if Kirby did have knowledge of Project Ozma, this doesn’t explain just how similar Kirby’s storyline was to Sagan’s. So I took a chance and contacted Dr. Drake. Surfing through SETI’s maze of e-mails, I finally tracked down Dr. Drake. I wrote and explained my findings, hoping that he could explain how Jack Kirby could have known about these items prior to the actual experiment. In a series of exchanges, (excerpted here) he answered some of my questions, and frankly, left me with even more.

Dr. Drake









I wrote:

Dear Dr. Drake,

I have gotten your name via the SETI Inst. Home page, I apologize for any inconvenience, but I have come across a mystery involving your initial research, and am hoping you could provide some answers.

In the months directly preceding your Project Ozma, a nationally syndicated newspaper strip called SKY MASTERS OF THE SPACE FORCE, was running a story about an eccentric astronomer who had been doing SETI style research, and had made contact with an unknown intelligence source. The many coincidences between the strip, and your work is astounding: Using a radio telescope to listen to background space garble, pinpointing Tau Ceti as the source, even the central figure, Dr. Martin Strickland bears a physical resemblance to you. Your formula quantifying extraterrestrial possibility is referred to in a passing manner. This raises some questions I hope you can shed some light on.

Dr. Drake responded;

Dear Mr. Taylor,

Thanks for your interesting message. I have no recollection whatsoever of the “Sky Masters” strip or any comic connection to Project Ozma. Perhaps it was because I was then living in West Virginia and the only newspaper available had almost no comics in it.

Question: Was your research project widely known so that a comic strip writer would have this type of specific knowledge prior to the April 8th 1960 date?

Answer: No. There was little public mention of the project in late 1959. I am surprised that anyone was writing about radio contact with ET’s at that time. It certainly was not an idea that popped up anywhere in the media of the time.

Question: Did you release any public statements announcing your research?

Answer: No, none, we kept a very low profile.

Question: Was NASA involved with your research, I ask this because the artist/writer, Jack Kirby did get technical assistance from NASA for his strip?

Answer: No, there was no NASA involvement at all in Project Ozma, or in any SETI work for many years thereafter. The NRAO, (National Radio Astronomy Observatory) was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, but no one from there was involved either.

Question: Did you know Jack Kirby?

Answer: No, this is a new name to me.

Question: Or Dave Wood?

Answer: The name Dave Wood means nothing to me.

Question: Has this strip (Sky Masters) ever been talked about? In the SETI newsletter, or any writings by yourself or others?

Answer: No, none of us has ever been aware of it

Question: The story in the strip takes the research to a similar conclusion that Dr. Sagan did in “Contact”, even going so far as having the unknown source supply a rendezvous point, and initiating contact, and an equivocating ending with no verifiable contact between the two cultures. Do you know if Dr. Sagan ever referred to this comic strip in passing?

Answer: I am pretty sure that Dr. Sagan knew nothing of this strip. He never mentioned it to me, and he probably would have had he known about it.

Greg Theakston’s graphic collection

That pretty much was the extent of our communications, I thanked him for his patience and assistance, and I promised that I would get him a copy of Greg Theakston’s Sky Masters book. (My thanks to the people at Pure Imaginations, especially Richard Bensam for supplying a copy at no cost)

I did manage to find a small article in Time Magazine from late Nov. 1959 that mentions Dr. Drake and his soon to be attempted experiment, but this article lacked the details and similarities between Kirby’s story and Sagan’s. Unfortunately, both men are gone, and can shed no light on the subject. Perhaps it is simply a case of cosmic equipoise, or the subliminal residue from Sagan reading Jack’s strip 25 years earlier. For myself, I choose to consider it a case of great minds thinking alike.

Kirby knew science, and science fiction. He voraciously read novels and sci-fi pulps, and was kept up to date by his friends at NASA; Neal explains;

“Dad was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club,(started in 1953) so robots and aliens and tales of the future abounded. How did he actually have time to read? I have no idea, but the Dungeon collection was no ornamental library; he had read every book and probably more than twice.

Sagan’s book postulates one of the great unanswered realities; Answering a question from the child version of the main character, her father says; “The universe is a pretty big place.  It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before.  So if it’s just us…seems like an awful waste of space.” I think Jack Kirby understood and accepted this concept, and soon populated his world with Krees, Skrulls, Insecticons, Galactus’ and dozens of other alien forms from outside the galaxy; both good and bad. This concept became perhaps the single most quest of Kirby’s fictional life. Jack Kirby saw both the traders, and the tigers.

Soon after the Sky Masters tale, Kirby drew a monster story for Atlas named Sserpo-the Creature that Crushed the World. The story revolved around another scientist doing SETI style research and uses his radio telescope to contact an alien society for help. This story appeared in Amazing Adventures #6 (Nov. 1961)

Kirby reusing the radio telescope bit with the same philosophical fear.

Another connection would occur many years later when Jack Kirby was asked by a magazine for his ideas for the Jupiter Plaque. This was a plaque devised by Carl Sagan to be sent into space to introduce humanity to any alien civilization that might one day come across it. Ever the philosopher, Jack explained that he was wary about sending an invite to aliens, because we don’t know who would answer, “the trader or the tiger”. So Jack’s response was a picture of man as happy superheroes, friendly, but able to protect themselves against invaders, still bluffing our way into space. Jack used this bluff many times in his Atlas monster tales, and in Fantastic Four #2 when he sent clippings of Atlas monsters to scare the Skrull Empire into believing Earth inhabitants were too powerful.

more sentient robot stories

Kirby’s time with Sky Masters wasn’t solitary. He spent a lot of time preparing other strips to sell to the syndicates. None seem to have caught on despite the help of the cream of the comic inkers. Chip Hardy was especially interesting as Kirby added in many sci-fi elements. Some that would be used again later.

Many titles and many presentations, the inkers were a mix of giants; Wood, Giella, Giacoia, Elder.

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Fantastic Four house ad from Hulk #1

Posted in General and tagged

Marvel recently used a piece of Kirby art for one of the multiple covers of its new Fantastic Four #1. We scanned the original art back in 2011 for our Digital Archive, and thought we’d show what is possible with an archival quality scan.
Above is what the art looks like. But using some photo editing adjustment tools, we can see some interesting items…

.. all kinds of pencil under-drawings: Sue in a different position, Reed’s neck and arm(s?) stretching in loops. In fact, it looks like the incongruous lump on the Thing’s right shoulder may have originally been Reed’s hand. The hand lettering looks like Stan Lee’s.

Here’s what the ad looked like in Hulk #1 in 1962.

And the 2018 “Hidden Gem” FF#1 cover

1993: Jack Kirby: The Hardest Working Man in Comics by Steve Pastis

More than a few years ago, Steve (not the comic strip cartoonist) Pastis approached our booth at a convention to tell us he interviewed Jack Kirby in late 1993, and if he finds a copy, he’ll send it to us. A few years later, victory was his (and ours)! –he sent us our own copy of the free Happening Magazine from November 1993 for our archive. Many thanks, Steve! – Rand

“If you read my stories, I think you’ll find that the people in them are very real,” said Jack Kirby, talking about a concept he pioneered.

“I never do fairy tale people, I do people just as they are.”

Kirby has always created characters which have human weaknesses and frailties. He often has had his superheroes fighting amongst themselves, because that is what people do. “Superheroes may be superhuman in stature but inside they’re human beings and they act and react as human beings,” he explained. “It  doesn’t matter whether you’re doing legendary characters like Hercules or modern characters, you’ll find that humans are humans and they’ll react the same way in certain situations.”

Kirby is considered by many to be America’s leading comic book artist. Many of his characters have become part of the American culture and his influence is evident in the evolution of the comic book, as well as in the American hero. His 53-year career is celebrated in a new book, The Art of Jack Kirby, written by Ray Wyman, Jr., and co-researched by Catherine Hohlfeld.

The book, which documents Kirby’s life and contains hundreds of color photos of his work, offers some amazing statistics about his prolific career. According to the numbers compiled by Wyman and and that Hohlfeld, Kirby created a total of 20,318 of art and 1,385 covers in his career. He published 1,158 pages in 1962 alone.

When asked what the greatest accomplishment was in his career, Kirby responded modestly, “The fact could sell magazines.” He then turned from the financial aspect to the creative side of his business, saying, “I’m proud of all my characters.”

Captain America, Kirby’s first popular character, was created shortly after meeting and becoming partners with Joe Simon in 1939. “Captain America was my earliest and I was very fond of him because he generated a lot of action scenes. I initially loved action very much.

“Captain America was a product of the way I felt at the time. I come from New York City and – especially on the block where I lived – there was plenty of action. There were fights and people would come from the next block and we would fight and either win or lose. That would be the routine. I grew up with that type of activity and I accepted it in my professional work.

“I believe it was also the times in general. Hitler was in power. The world was immersed in a general atmosphere of war. The war was coming and so there was a lot of turbulence. It was a very turbulent period and people reacted in a turbulent fashion. When I met partner Joe Simon, we immediately got our heads together and came up with Captain America who was typical of times. He was a patriot. He was a fighter. We were Americans and, in our plu cial minds, we were winners. Captain America was a winner. And sales were phenomenal,”

Kirby’s characters, being a very diverse bunch, have been created from very different inspirations.

“Thor is a legendary hero and I love the legends. Thor was the perfect for a comic book hero. Silver Surfer, of course, was a product of California. I opened the paper one day in New York and there were these surfers riding these waves. It seems incredible to me now that I conceived of Silver as surfing around the universe.

“The Incredible Hulk I got from a woman. One night in New York City, I saw this child crawling out from under the fender of a parked car. Suddenly, there was a scream and this woman comes running out. She lifts up the entire rear of this touring car — and this was no small car – So this youngster can crawl out on the sidewalk. It struck me that, in tense situations, human beings can transcend their own strength and do things that they don’t ordinarily think they can do.”

Kirby had more creative ideas for the character he was creating, however, “I put the gamma rays,” he recalled. “These kinds of things were very saleable.” the gamma rays,”

Born in 1917, Kirby gained an interest in storytelling from hearing his mother tell Eastern European folk tales. He was also inspired by authors such as Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. His first job in publishing was for a newspaper as a cartoonist and writer. After a brief period working for Max Fleischer Studios on cartoons such as *Popeye,” he found work with newspaper strip syndicates.

His partnership with Simon led to success with “Boy Commandos” comics, which inspired National Periodical Publications to put the two on contract. Kirby earned a Bronze Star in France during World War II and returned home in 1945 to find a new boom in the comics industry.

By 1950, the Kirby/Simon partnership was considered the most respected comics producing team. Unfortunately, their venture Mainline Comics was soon closed during an era where many comic book publishers fell victim to government censorship. The two turned their efforts to create romance comics and eventually went their separate ways. Kirby once again found himself with National Periodicals, which had since become DC Comics.

Unhappy with his editors, Kirby moved to Marvel Comics in 1959 where he collaborated with Stan Lee on new characters and revived old ones. Over the next decade, characters such as the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, X-Men and Silver Surfer were created. Captain America “came out of retirement” to join a super hero team called “The Avengers.” His early years at Marvel were perhaps his most creative.

“This was a period when we were experimenting with the atom bomb,” he recalled. “People were wondering what the effects would be. Everybody worried ‘Would we all become mutants? We played around with this ‘mutation thing’ and I came up with the X-Men, who were associated with radiation and its effects on humanity.”

In 1970, Kirby left Marvel and rejoined DC Comics in an arrangement which allowed him to work for the New York publisher from his California home. There he created “The Fourth World,” “Mister Miracle” and “The New Gods.” Since then, he has worked for animation studios such as DePatie-Freling and Hanna-Barbera. He is currently overseeing several projects which will carry his name.

Through the years, articles have reported on a feud between Kirby and Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee. When asked to set the record straight on this relationship, Kirby made every effort to offer kind comments about his former boss.

“We always had a good relationship,” he said. “He was an editor and I would simply bring my artwork. I would write the story at home. Stan Lee was involved in a lot of things. He’s a talented man and he was very busy. I did my thing and he did his.

“Stan Lee is a very friendly guy and I’ve always found him to be very congenial. We get along very well. Things are always blown out of proportion by other people. It becomes one thing then another.” For whatever reason, however, Kirby acknowledged that the two comic book legends haven’t spoken to each other in a long time.

His biographer, Wyman, explained the relationship between Kirby and Lee. “At first apparently it worked well. When the relationship initially started, they were doing monster books, they were having a good time. But I think somewhere after the first couple of years or so, the personalities started wearing on each other. Stan was never really close to Jack like Joe (Simon) was. Joe and Jack worked very well. They became friends and there was a lot of interaction. I don’t think that ever happened in the Lee/Kirby relationship.”

However, Wyman found that the two men have great respect for each other. When Lee felt that “something wasn’t right” with the way Spider-man was created, he had Jack Kirby to do the cover. The same thing happened when Iron Man was created; Kirby was again brought in on the original creative stages of a character. Kirby became Marvel Comics’ “touchstone of style,” according to Wyman,

“One of Stan Lee’s comments about Jack was “I can’t get over this guy,” recalled Wyman. “He creates 100 villains at a sitting and then kills off half of them. Any one of these villains I can make a million off of.”

Interview with Mitch Gerads at WonderCon 2018

This interview was conducted on March 24th 2018 at WonderCon 2018 in Anaheim, California by Tom Kraft at Mitch Gerads’ booth, exclusively for the Jack Kirby Museum.

Mitch Gerads is the artist of the popular and highly acclaimed comic series, Mister Miracle, based on Jack Kirby’s original characters of his Mister Miracle series. Written by Tom King, this 12-issue series is currently on issue 7 at the time of this interview.

Kirby Museum: Can you tell me your background, how you started, where you went to school, just a general idea.

Mitch Gerads: Yeah. I kind of have that… I’ve been lucky enough in my career where I have that story of, I’ve wanted to be a comic book artist since I was four years old and it worked out, which is awesome. The road there wasn’t always straight there by any means. I always wanted to be a comic book artist, but somewhere in my senior year of high school, I had the cognizance enough where I realized how hard it was to get in the industry and I was very excited to start my new life path of college and being on my own and all these things that I was excited about, so I went with graphic design. I was like, “All right, I can still do art, but it brings me on a more solid career path.” I went to school for graphic design. I did a four year, it took me five, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and then I immediately got hired at a design firm where we did packaging for Trix and Lucky Charms and all the General Mills kind of kid cereals.

What’s kind of funny is that during that job, they constantly recognized how much I was doodling on every paper in every meeting and all these things, and they eventually moved me over to their illustration department so I started illustrating Trix and Lucky Charms and all these fun… Cookie Crisp. Then there was massive lay-offs for the company. We lost the General Mills account, so I was out of a job and I could either reapply for graphic design jobs, which I liked, but whatever, but I did have this time now where I was single, I was renting, I qualified for unemployment. I was like, “All right, I’m gonna give comics a shot and just see. If not, I can go back to design.”

Actually, I got hired as a colorist over at Boom! for a while. Then I did a couple issues of “Dr. Who” over at IDW. Then that brought me right to the “The Activity” at Image, and then from “The Activity,” we went to “Punisher” for 20 issues, and then right after “Punisher,” “Sheriff of Babylon” and “Batman,” and “Mister Miracle,” and here we are.

KM: What city was that? Where were you?

Gerads: I lived in Minnesota. I’ve lived in Minnesota the first 34 years of my life, and now I live in Phoenix.

KM: Phoenix where it’s hot.

Gerads: Yeah, it’s the exact polar opposite.

KM: When you started out, you were doing physical drawing and ink?

Gerads: I was traditional all the way up until about halfway through “Punisher,” so 2012, then I switched to all digital.

KM: What made you switch? Why did you decide to?

Gerads: Yeah, my path there is different than everyone else’s. The reason I switched is actually, I would be in my studio and I’d be working all day long, and then my wife would come home and we would talk and say hi, but then I would go back to my studio and she would go watch TV in the other room, and we didn’t see each other all that much until I went to bed and it kind of bugged me, it kind of weighed on her a little, so then I discovered the Cintiq Companion, it’s a Cintiq but it’s a standalone computer so you can travel with it and go anywhere. I started… I looked into that and I got it, but I still wasn’t happy with how my art looked on it. It looked too fake, it looked too digital. I actually had the technology for about a year and a half until I decided to go all digital. I wanted to wait until my all digital stuff looked like it was traditional. I finally figured that out with the help of the Kyle Webster brushes, and I think I achieved that, and digital has helped me really enjoy my art.

KM: Do you do your art on an iPad or do you still do it on the big display?

Gerads: I still do it on the … I enjoy the 13 inch screen, which is weird. I do it on the 13 inch MobileStudio Pro. It’s their new advanced version of the companion.

KM: Was Jack Kirby an influence in the direction of your art?

Gerads: Yeah, I mean in a lot of non-obvious ways. He’s Jack Kirby, how can you not be influenced by him and be in comics? Obviously, I think everyone is inspired by Kirby in the dynamic poses and all these things, but I knew I didn’t necessarily want to do straight up Kirby. I didn’t want to do that version of super hero comics. I kind of found a niche where I really enjoy bringing humanity and… realism is kind of a dicey word, because people get caught up in it, but I guess realism to kind of these super Kirbyesque characters. I think that’s been kind of… especially “Mister Miracle,” it’s about humanizing gods. Yeah, that’s kind of been my approach, but I mean Kirby, especially working on “Mister Miracle,” it’s never not in my head. He’s ever present.

KM: How did the relationship with you and Tom King come about that allowed you to do “Mister Miracle?”

Gerads: I was just finishing up “Punisher” and Jamie Rich, who was the new head guy of Vertigo at the time, called me up and he’s like, “Hey, can I pitch you some things?” I was like… and Marvel had not really found me anything yet. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll listen to what you got.” He pitched me a couple things, but then all of a sudden the next pitch was, “All right, it’s kind of like “Justified” meets “Homeland,” and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m in.” He’s like, “All right, well, it’s written by Tom King.” I’m like, “Super in.” I was familiar with Tom from his novel, “A Once Crowded Sky,” and then also he was on “Grayson” at the time.

They had me try out. They gave me a couple characters from “Sheriff of Babylon” and were like, “Hey, how would you interpret these?” One of the directives on it was the character Sofia. They’re like, “Oh, Sofia, sitting on a couch holding a tea cup.” So I drew that, and what I found out a while later, Tom telling me of one of the reasons I stood out, because they had tried out a few people on the book and he just wasn’t happy, and one of the reasons I stood out I guess is that I was the only artist of everyone who tried out that actually drew an Iraqi tea cup. Everyone else drew an English tea cup and there’s a difference, so he liked that I cared.

That kind of started our whole relationship and right from the beginning, Tom and I started talking and realized we were on the same wavelength. We’re brothers.

KM: Probably your approach to realism made the tea cup realistic, is what got you the job.

Gerads: Yeah, exactly.

KM: Can you tell me how you got the Mister Miracle assignment with Tom King?

Gerads: Yeah, so how “Mister Miracle” came to be is a real funny story. We had kind of developed “The War of Jokes and Riddles,” that story arc as our kind of, it was gonna be an OGN, out of continuity thing, kind of our “Long Halloween” or something. It got green lit and we’re all good to go. That’s what I was gonna do after “Sheriff,” and then someone at DC decided they liked the story line so much that they wanted it to be part of the main book, which means that they can’t fire Mikel from the book, and obviously they shouldn’t, so they were like “Mitch is out, but we’re willing to… whatever you guys want to do we can do it.”

Tom called me up and he told me the news and I was bummed. I was super bummed. All I wanted to do was Batman. He’s like, “What could we pitch?” I’m like, “I don’t know. All I want is that Batman project. The only other thing I care about is “Mister Miracle.” The line kind of went dead, and he’s like “What are you talking about?” I’m like, “You know, “Mister Miracle,” the kid that Jack Kirby…” He’s like “I know who it is. That’s literally who I’m calling to pitch you right now.” Of all the characters and everything, it was really cool that it kind of happened so natural. I think that excited us both and really kind of made us “Oh, we want to make this something special, not just our next superhero thing, but something that…” I mean, we say this all the time and we mean it, is we want “Mister Miracle,” our aim is the next “Dark Knight Returns,” the next “Watchmen.” I’m sure we can’t attain that, but that’s our goal.

KM: You mentioned yesterday about growing up with Jack Kirby’s “Mister Miracle” comics.

“I really grabbed on to Scott Free because he’s the only New God, he’s a god that doesn’t want to be a god. He’s the reader’s way into the New Gods, because everyone else is pretty un-relatable.”

Gerads: Absolutely. My brother, Greg, he was super into comics and he’s 14 years older than me. I have two brothers, 14 and 15 years older than me. Both super into comics and once I got to a good reading age, they would kind of hand me things and get me excited. One of my most memorable things is “Mister Miracle.” I think the first stuff he actually handed me was the Marshall Rogers run and then that brought me to the Jack Kirby run afterwards. I was just fascinated by it. It’s funny, all the themes that I was fascinated by when I was a kid reading those books are themes in our book where I really grabbed on to Scott Free because he’s the only New God, he’s a god that doesn’t want to be a god. He’s the reader’s way into the New Gods, because everyone else is pretty un-relatable. They’re all big gods, they love being gods, they’re all mighty, and Scott’s the guy who just wants to be like a Suburban dude. That’s kind of the reader’s access to the world.

KM: In the way you approach your art, is there anything in your approach you can describe in drawing Scott Free, Orion, Big Barda, especially Big Barda, she’s like… such a normal woman.

Gerads: Yep. Big Barda in “Mister Miracle” was fun. I’m really glad fans accepted it so quick, because in the past, there really hasn’t… most people don’t draw size difference. That always bugged me. Her name is Big Barda. If you don’t make her big, then what’s the point? So I put a good foot and a half difference. If Scott… if all the DC handbooks say Scott is six one. I think it says, like my Barda’s like seven something, maybe even close to eight. I’m just like, that’s genius, like that’s… not that’s genius. I’m calling myself a genius. Oh my god. To me, it just adds more fun and more… in a way it makes everyone more relatable. Any time you can add traits to characters and make them more relatable and human, I’ll take that all day long.

KM: That’s interesting because it’s a very different approach. A lot of other artists have taken Jack Kirby on and try to make it like an interpretation of how Jack would have done…

“Our idea is you can’t out-Kirby Kirby, so why try? Even if you can get close, you’re never gonna be better than Kirby, so why try? Our idea is like, “Okay, let’s take all of the things Kirby was trying to do, and all the things that Kirby held highest in creativity and all these things and do that in the Tom King, Mitch Gerads way.”

Gerads: Yeah, that’s everyone’s first inclination and the New Gods, across the board, have not been good sellers. Real rough going at almost every stop. Grant Morrison came close to real good selling with it, but… so me and Tom, that was our first thing we came across is that everybody was trying to be Jack Kirby, or really pay homage to Jack Kirby, which we are too, but in a different way. Our idea is you can’t out-Kirby Kirby, so why try? Even if you can get close, you’re never gonna be better than Kirby, so why try? Our idea is like, “Okay, let’s take all of the things Kirby was trying to do, and all the things that Kirby held highest in creativity and all these things and do that in the Tom King, Mitch Gerads way.”

KM: The pacing of the book, what is the process when Tom writes a script? Do you know all the issues, if there’s 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, remaining, are they all laid out for you ahead of time?

Gerads: No. That’s a good question, because I specifically have told Tom that I never want to know the future past whatever script I have, just because I don’t want my foreknowledge to seep into the book, because the whole book is a journey and I don’t want to influence readers. I want to be right there with them. So I try to keep it on the wraps.

KM: When he writes a script how much influence do you have on how the art is laid out? In the Mister Miracle Directors Cut, Tom King’s script was included. it seemed very specific about what panel is what.

Gerads: Yeah, that’s how he does it. I request full script. I like to know exactly what people are saying as close as we can and doing because I get real, hoity-toity and artsy about stuff and I feel like there’s a lot you can do with what people are actually saying, even if it’s not what they mean, but just seeing what’s happening, and so I try to really pay attention to those kind of human nuance, so I want all of it. But the cool thing is Tom and I are so collaborative that he gives me a script, and if I need to change something or I think something works better, he just has me do it. He’ll figure it out with dialog later. So we just kind of feed off each other.

KM: Then for every book, you do the art digitally, you create panels and do all the coloring.

Gerads: Yeah.

KM: You do literally everything. You just hand off digital files for printing.

Gerads: Yep, and for lettering.

KM: And lettering is digital as well?

Gerads: Yes for sure.

KM: Any previews you want fans to know about in the upcoming issues?

Gerads: Yeah, Issue 8 is supposed to be out April 11th. I don’t know if that’s true as I’m currently at WonderCon finishing it in my hotel room and it’s March whatever, but I think it might still be. I don’t think I missed the actual print deadline. We did announce there will be a skip month between 9 and 10. I recently had a child and I’m very slowly figuring out my schedule and how to make it work and all these things. What’s super cool is I found out from all the fans here, everyone kind of gets it. I think fans would rather have a higher quality book than just kind of like knocking it out as many people have told me, in 10 years when this trade is sitting on a Barnes and Noble, nobody’s gonna remember if a book was a month late, so… but I have a personal pride in my deadlines. I’ve never missed a print deadline my entire career and I don’t want to ever, and if I do, I want to make sure it’s the only time. I get it. If people have problems with it, I get it, but I thank people for understanding.

Looking For The Awesome – 15. On His Own Again

Previous – 14. The Art Of The Swipe | Contents | Next – 16. Kirby’s Kosmic Mystery

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


While scrambling at Charlton, Joe remained in contact with his buddies at Harvey. Al noticed that Dell was doing well with TV tie-ins. One of the most popular TV shows was Disney’s Davy Crockett which debuted in 1954. Now Davy Crockett was a historical figure so Disney could not copyright the character. Joe was hired to edit some of Harvey’s titles. As part of their Western Tales series Joe hired Jack to draw a Davy Crockett series. After two issues, Davy Crockett was summarily dropped and Jim Bowie was given the lead for the final issue; seemingly based on the movie “The Iron Mistress”. Boy’s Ranch tales were reprinted as back-up stories. Jack would also draw over two dozen covers for Harvey’s romance and war books the next year.

More importantly, now that S&K were no longer producing their own romance books, Prize turned their romance titles back over to Joe and Jack. Immediately they were back drawing an average of 23 pages of romance stories for three bi-monthly titles. But this was different, they were no longer 50/50 part owners, Jack was now freelancing– working for page rates. These 20+ pages a month had to carry Jack for the next year.

On Dec. 1, 1955 Rosa Parks, a black seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her bus seat. She was arrested. Now Rosa wasn’t naïve, she was also the secretary for the local branch of the NAACP. She knew from past experience what her actions would detail. But she was tired after a days work and had had enough. Just a few months earlier she had attended a function where the young Dr. Martin Luther King had called for more response in reaction to Emmitt Till’s death. This singular act coming so soon after the Emmett Till murder, gave rise to what was called the civil rights movement when that young minister from Atlanta, Georgia named Martin Luther King Jr. called for a citywide boycott. There were accusations that this was a planned event to showcase the plight of the blacks. The resulting boycott and lawsuit led to a Federal Court declaring that Alabama’s segregation laws were unconstitutional, and they were disbanded. The resultant violence and outrage would last for decades as blacks in other areas began demanding their dignity and civil rights.

Rosa with Dr. King –  Frank Giacoia

Mama Rose had not taken Ben’s death well. Her own health began to falter and the Kirby boys decided to put her in an assisted living home. In 1956 she quietly passed. It was the worst of times for Jack. His business in shambles, his partnership broken, and now the loss of his mother–the anchor for all that made Jack a quality person. Scenes at the Kirby casa must have been intense.

Times were tight, this down period was lasting a little too long for comfort. Jack looked at other companies with no luck. After fifteen years partnered with Joe Simon, Jack had lost the skill of selling himself. Then a friend, artist Frank Giacoia told him that Atlas always needed artists. Jack explained how he had left Timely/Atlas in a less than positive situation in 1941. Frank said that he would intervene in Jack’s behalf.

Atlas was the latest accepted name for Martin Goodman’s publishing empire. The name derived from the Atlas logo printed on the covers of the comics. After Simon and Kirby left Timely, the editorial reins were handed over to Stan Lee, the young gofer turned text story writer and relative to the owner. Under Stan’s guidance, Atlas had grown to be the most prolific comic company around. What it lacked in an identifying personality, or literary quality, it made up in sheer numbers.

Goodman’s m.o. was to follow trends and blanket the market, smothering the competition. Bill Gaines once said that given a fair chance, his individual books outsold everyone else’s, but what he couldn’t overcome was Atlas’ ability to flood out his books at the retailers. There were months where Atlas published over 50 titles. Stan’s job was not to develop characters and innovate; it was to keep the trains running on time, a facilitator of product dispersement. Perhaps the best proof of Stan’s lack of seriousness was that Gene Colan tells of when he approached Timely for work, he found Stan in his office wearing a beanie with a propeller on top, laughing merrily. But Stan was not without talents, Stan Lee had proven himself very adept at writing peppy teen humor strips. Millie the Model was the closest Atlas had to an iconic title. Millie and her friends Patsy, Hedy, and Sherry frequented almost a dozen titles. Atlas published almost 20 individual war tiles, and more than a dozen interchangeable western, horror and romance titles. Later they had looked to TV as the new source for ideas. More than anything, Stan needed competent artists to crank out all the reams of paper Atlas printed each month.

If there was any negative blowback for Kirby’s earlier exit it didn’t come from Stan Lee. Stan was excited to have Kirby back. Stan had only fond memories of Jack from 1941. It’s doubtful that Martin Goodman even knew Jack was back. Jack was a freelancer, working at home. Martin Goodman might not have been the most honest individual, but he has neither record of being personally spiteful, nor any record of him micromanaging the comic division.

If there was a good side of the breakup, it was that once again Jack was working at home. His little dungeon became his castle. It would be his little spot of the world for next dozen or so years. Neal remembers that little room.

“The door to Dad’s studio was usually closed. That wasn’t to keep noise out, it was to keep all the smoke in. My father’s cigar smoking was legendary and when you opened the door to the Dungeon you were met with a great billowing cloud. It wasn’t so bad if he was smoking something good, like a Garcia Vega, and the smell would be almost tolerable. Unfortunately, that only happened around his birthday or Father’s Day, when boxes of decent cigars came with a bow on top. When Dad was buying he didn’t bother with fancy brands. It didn’t matter if it was rolled-up skunk cabbage, to him a stogie was a stogie.”

The first job Kirby got at Atlas was a war story for Battleground #14 (Nov. 1956) quickly followed by a fantasy story for Astonishing #56 (Dec. 1956) Stan’s favorite artist at the time was Joe Maneely, perhaps the fastest, most facile, and dependable artist of his time, if not, he was second only to Jack Kirby. Joe was fast but somewhat predictable and plain. He was good, but lacked the dynamism and energy of a Kirby. Interestingly, Jack was immediately given control of a new series, Yellow Claw. The first issue was drawn by Joe Maneely. Joe’s version was a straight forward Cold War spy thriller centered on an Asian villain; a weak tea version of 007. Jack’s was different.

Mythological crazies and mutants

When Kirby took over, the whole timber of the series abruptly changed into a hi-tech sci-fi thrill-a-rama. The Yellow Claw became a maniacal arch villain bent on world domination. Kirby brought in mutants, aliens, mythological monsters, and any other weird characters that a clever story could be built around. There had never been a series like it. It was wild and crazy and over the top. While there were no credits listed, Kirby’s hand is all over these changes,in the formatting, in the writing style, and in the thematic changes. Unfortunately the series only lasted for three additional issues.

Hypnotists and Kirby aliens

Unknown to Jack, the world was once again entering a period of unparalleled creative energy. The planets were aligning, and storms were brewing and waves were building that would wash away the stagnant detritus of the 1950’s. Political, artistic, cultural, societal, and philosophical conflicts would converge and erupt and tear the very fabric of society. Families would be torn asunder as the children understood that the times they were a ’changin’. Just as radio had ushered in jazz, now TV showed us an imperfect world beyond our small little neighborhoods. New idols were needed to take over from Roy, Gene, Hopalong and John Wayne. A TV producer and writer would team-up and provide a new template for the American hero, stoic, humorous, sarcastic, with a heart of gold and…feet of clay. At Warner Bros. Wm. T. Orr hired Roy Huggins to create a new western hero. Huggins, a novelist known best for hard boiled pulp fiction, and condemnation from the HUAC Committee due to his Communist Party flirtation in the 1930’s came up with Cheyenne. Cheyenne Bodie was a loner traveling the trails of the old west searching for adventure. His parents were killed during an Indian raid, and the child was raised as a Cheyenne-thus his name. Cheyenne served variously as a scout, Indian fighter, lawman, trail boss, and bounty hunter. (very similar to S&K’s Bullseye.) Roy Huggins explains how he created Cheyenne by recycling scripts from Warner Brothers movies such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), often simply inserting the character of Cheyenne Bodie (Clint Walker) into familiar stories from the studio vaults. These changes brought the series a sense of gravitas and a measure of respect as an “adult” western and made it the studio’s first full-fledged hit. Cheyenne was closer to a Gary Cooper stoicism, but Huggins would stretch his template with his next creation.

Building on this success, Roy and Orr followed this up with what has been called the first TV anti-hero when they introduced Maverick. With Maverick, Huggins turned the western genre on its head, adding self mockery and parody to the stolid genre. The Maverick boys were as brave and honorable as Cheyenne, but their first responsibility was always themselves, and they had to be prodded to put their safety on the line. The heroics were almost accidental by nature. Huggins made the Maverick Bros, reluctant heroes, with distinct feet of clay. Their good humor was as much a weapon as their guns. Huggins would also throw in pop culture references to spice up the stories. Huggins followed this up with Sugarfoot, a pacifistic wannabe lawyer trying to bring law and justice to the west. His aw-shucks easy going manner stood in dark contrast to the hulking brooding Cheyenne; once again a hero with personal limitations. The touch of irony that Huggins brought to the western genre in Maverick and Sugarfoot with their irreverent blend of drama and comedy–has become one of the defining characteristics of dramatic series in the subsequent years, not just for TV but the movies, art, and graphic storytelling as well. If there is any great theme to be found in the culture of the 1960’s it would be self- deprecation and parody. Woody Allen and Stan Kubrick solidified this genre.

Lookin’ out for number one

The three series were huge successes and Huggins would follow these up with even more series. In 1958 he would update his milieu to modern day adventure and detective series. With 77 Sunset Strip, Huggins designed a template for TV group concepts. In series like Bourbon Street Beat, Hawaiian Eye, and Surfside 6, the team usually consisted of two old friends, one perhaps slightly older, more cerebral, and the other brawnier, earthier, quicker to anger and more apt to think with his fists. Add to that a hot chic to stir up the pot, and a young hot head always getting into trouble. The friends would bicker and fight over methods, girls, and money. The series would become intertwined as the stars would often cross-over and appear in the others show. One facet was an almost cavalier attitude towards authority as the heroes were often called to go around the law to find justice. The subject matter of these shows was often mirrored in the problems of the day, drugs, racial prejudice, class warfare, and greedy businessmen trampling on the small man.

Pop culture would lead the charge as race music- as black rhythm and blues was called- challenged the old guard for the ears, heart and money of their children. Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and others begat Elvis, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Pat Boone, who begat a wave of imitators from abroad, the result was rock and roll. Perhaps the most important tidal wave of all since it would shape all other trends and fashions for the next decade. R&R was the magnet pulling all the disparate elements together. It’s astounding that an artform born and reared in the US would find its most fervent voices in a small dirty port city in Great Britain.

Just as William Orr and Roy Huggins were beginning a collaboration that would dominate TV and Jack Kirby was beginning a collaborative pairing with Stan Lee that would shake the world of comics, in a small church in England a pair of teenagers were meeting whose partnership would transform not just music, but culture itself. A Liverpool England lad, John Lennon had formed a small skiffle band called the Quarrymen in 1956. While performing at St. Peter’s Church in Liverpool, John Lennon and Paul McCartney met and the pair found out that they have similar pop idol interests: “Paul, what kind of music do you like?” asked John. “Well I used to like Lonnie Donnegan but now that skiffle is fading out I love the music of Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochrane, Gene Vincent, Little Richard…”

Hey! John interrupted, “they’re all the people I’m into.”

Joe Simon was still restless, editing at Harvey and Prize was not the same as creating and selling new concepts. He and Jack had been working on a new idea while still at Mainline. The concept was an updated kid gang book, where the kids were now adults. A group of four specialists who sought danger and thrills no one else would face. Jack and Joe put together a presentation for Challengers of the Unknown and probably reluctantly due to their break-up with DC just after the war, took it to National Publications. In July 1956, they made the presentation to Editor Jack Schiff, a familiar face from their earlier time at DC. Jack Schiff liked the presentation, but things had changed at DC. They were no longer allowing outside studios to supply work; all books were tightly controlled by its editors. So Joe Simon would not be allowed to control their new title. With no other duties except perhaps as inker, Joe decided to pass on the project. Jack was perfectly happy to pencil the book for page rate since DC paid the highest rates in the industry. Joe went back to work at Harvey. His attempt at restarting Simon and Kirby failed. Jack Schiff partnered Kirby with writer Dave Wood.

The fearless Foursome

The Challengers was unique, most groups were formed by force fitting existing heroes into a working unit to take on a powerful enemy, a la Justice Society of America, but the Challs were neither drafted, nor brought together to save the world. The Challs became a group as an act of fate, a singular moment in time, a shared unexpected happening that changed their lives and forged a unit. While flying to a radio interview, the four adventurers are blown off course by a fierce storm. Ace Morgan was a test pilot, Red Ryan a circus daredevil, Prof. Haley an Undersea Explorer, and Rocky Davis was an Olympic wrestler. Unable to control the plane, pilot Ace Morgan crash lands the plane in a dark forest. One by one from the wreckage the four men emerge, unscathed. Red says, “We should be dead–but we’re not! My watch should be smashed. yet it’s unharmed-keeping time” Ace replies; “Borrowed time, Red, we’re living on borrowed time.” Realizing that they have faced down death itself, the men decide to band together and take up any challenge that is too scary for normal people. Taking jobs for men who “fear neither devil, nor death”

The new book was scheduled to appear in a tryout series named Showcase. Showcase was started as a way to introduce new concepts and see what the audience response would be. If warranted, the title would receive its own series. The public little noted the first 3 issues, but for issue #4, National decided to reboot a long dormant super hero. The new Flash was the first of a flood of new and rebooted super-heroes. DC had reignited the super-hero craze.

Enter the fifth Challenger

Challenger’s appeared in issue #6, and again in #7, a sure sign that Schiff was excited with the series, ordering a second issue before the first even hit the stand.

The adventures thrown at the Challs rivaled any ever seen in comics. They faced every scary nightmare from the occult to futuristic technology. Sorcerers, aliens, sentient robots, ex-Nazis, even giant rocky mythological warriors, and the League of Death Cheaters never flinched in their duties. There were times when they separated and worked independently and then there were times when the worked together as a tight knit unit. In the second issue they even had outside help as a beautiful computer expert joined the group. June Robbins would become the unofficial fifth Challenger when she was recruited to help defeat Ultivac, a sentient robot created when “the use of radioactive materials in building this machine has somehow developed in its braincase …a thinking process on a par with humans!” One of the unique factors in Challs was that along with the futuristic elements, actual recent scientific developments were included. When Rocky is accidentally shot it is left to the doctors to perform a new process of open heart massage to revive him. The robot seeking sentience and acceptance was a concept Jack would revisit numerous times.

Go into space, crash land, get power to flame on – Romance comes full circle

The art is primo Kirby, powerful, detailed and imaginative. The strange part is the formatting. Harking back to the early 1940’s, the pages are full of the large circular panels and zigzag borders. This was also seen in some of the concurrent Yellow Claw stories and a few DC fantasy tales. The inking in the Challs books was very clean, most likely due to the inking being done by DC stalwarts like Marvin Stein, George Klein and Bruno Premiani. It’s hard to know what editorial demands led to this cleaner, white bread inking. What is missing is the circular shadows, and halos and claustrophobic geometrics. There are a few in the first issue, but none later. This may have been more a Joe Simon technique. The inking on the Yellow Claw stories is dense, full of heavy cross-hatching and the heavy shading of the Simon and Kirby studios-minus the circular shadows and arches. The Yellow Claw pages were probably inked by Kirby himself. Schiff’s instincts were good; the response was positive. He assigned Kirby to do 2 more issues for Showcase # 11 &12.

We will see stone heads and Rocs again

Schiff also assigned Kirby assorted back up stories for National’s fantasy titles. These were similar in theme to the sci-fi fantasy tales that Jack was doing at Atlas for Yellow Claw, concepts like thought control, size shifting, alien visitations, and interdimensional travel, Kirby finally found the genre he was born for.

OK not every monster was a hit – Krackel, krackel, krackel

Jack had rebounded once again, he was back doing steady work for three companies, yet the industry was still in turmoil. Martin Goodman, a seasoned businessman was about to make a big mistake-one that would almost cost him his comic business. In a move with strong similarities to what happened to Mainline, Goodman developed distributor problems.

At the beginning of the decade, several events occurred at Atlas that would have long term results. Perhaps most important was that Goodman summarily fired his large bullpen of artists; instead they would now be considered “freelancers’ who were considered independent contractors responsible for their own taxes, own materials, own vacations, yet have no attachment to their work as the company claimed all rights to their creations. Despite this separation between them and the editor, Stan would keep up the fallacy of a close knit group of friends. Second, Martin Goodman had secured his news stand position by becoming his own distributor. He called it Atlas News Company and made his 50-80 comics a month the core of the company as well as his paperback and magazine divisions. The Atlas insignia became the one uniting feature of the company.

In 1956, in a questionable decision he suddenly and inexplicably dropped Atlas News and joined the largest national distributor American News. American had become prominent because of its 3 tier set-up. The main distribution, a series of sub-distributors covering the country, and a web of retail stores that sold to the public. But all the distributors were suffering from the effects of the Kefauver hearings. Publishers, retailers and readers had been falling by the wayside for the last couple years leaving the national distributors in a tenuous position. Horror struck when in early 1957, American was hit by both the government and customers and was forced to close shop. Dell, its largest client canceled its service and followed with an anti-trust suit over the monopolistic nature of the company, which it says failed to maximize Dell’s place in the market.

Goodman was suddenly left without a distributor and in what has been called “the 1957 Implosion” he closed down the shop and stopped buying new product. Stan Lee had the sad job of telling his friends that there was no more work. John Romita was asked to bring in his unfinished story sans pay, and was told he was laid off by a secretary because Stan was too embarrassed to face him directly.

Goodman quickly scrambled and worked out an agreement with Independent, the distributing arm of National Publications. Goodman sadly accepted the new conditions that forced the closure of the paperback division, and limited his comic output to 8 titles monthly. For the short term, Stan would take the back inventory from upwards of 80 titles and force them into 16 bland bi-monthly books.

Goodman’s empire overnight became one of the smallest comic publishers.
For all the sordid details, try to pick up a copy of Tales of the Atlas Implosion, self-published by Dr. Tom Lammers.

Classy John Severin cover – cute little fishies

Jack had just finished the first issue of a new series for Stan Lee, The Black Rider Rides Again and started on the second issue when word came down that work was halted. Atlas was shut down. Once again outside pressures set Kirby back. The industry was taking a battering, and the artists were the casualties.

Things looked up somewhat when Frank Giacoia asked Jack to ghost his newspaper strip Johnny Reb and Billy Yank. For the next seven months –from July 1957 to Feb. 1958–Jack did the Sunday strip. Kirby also collaborated on several proposed newspaper strips with Frank Giacoia, Marvin Stein, and Will Elder. Rumor has it that Giacoia offered Kirby the work due to the falling out at Atlas. It looked like Kirby may have colored some of them. Over at DC, Jack Schiff increased the page count on his mystery books and offered Jack the Green Arrow strip when George Papp left.

Kirby aping Giacoia

Some more good news came when Joe Simon contacted Jack about some new work for Harvey. Harvey must have noticed the good response that DC was having with their Post-Atomic fantasy books, and decided to update one of his horror titles.

Kirby’s time at Prize in the late 50’s is challenging. Most of the work seems to be Kirby simply providing pencils for Simon edited projects. Yet there are books which claim that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were both editors, and oddly enough, show very little Kirby work. One such is All For Love, a romance book totally separate from Young Romance or the others. In fact, the only issue featuring Kirby work was (Vol. 3#2 Aug. 1959); very late in Jack’s Prize tenure. Yet the other artists seem to have been culled from the Simon/Kirby studio of a year earlier. It’s hard to know just how accurate these credits are, but the ownership blurbs were supposedly notarized and verifiable.

Funny that Young Romance and Young Love no longer had Kirby as editor. Joe Simon would always move in and out of Prize’s editorial chain, even up to the 1960’s, but the credit of Jack Kirby was rarely listed. S&K expert Harry Mendryk speculates that the listing of Kirby as editor on a couple series was a mistake. He points to what he thinks are corrective statements just a few months later, rather than waiting till the next year as was the usual method. He believes Kirby was just a freelance contributor by that time. But I still wonder. Why would Prize mistakenly credit Kirby on a long running series. The listing of Simon and Kirby was not an oversight, since neither was involved in the creation, but rather a specific choice by someone.
What is obvious is that Kirby’s Prize stories were no longer inked by Joe or another S&K studio inker. These stories are rather austere and lacking of crossshatching and the arches, and halos most common during the S&K years. It has been suggested that Jack inked many of these himself; though I still see a couple different inkers at work.

Inking is more planar and sloppy, lacking in depth and texture faces
more formulaic no snaky shadows, or arches

Back at Harvey, Black Cat had started life as Black Cat Comics – a vehicle for their popular female costumed heroine. When super heroes started to fade, the genre changed, first to a western title and then to a horror/suspense title. With issue #58 (Apr. 56) it entered the modern age with four stories by Kirby, all post-atomic sci-fi themed with the usual collection of aliens, mutates, and mad scientists and a new title, Black Cat Mystery.

A new companion book soon joined. Alarming Tales #1, cover dated Sept. 1957 featured five Kirby stories with themes and plot elements that would reecho throughout the remainder of Jack’s work. The first four issues of this series represent perhaps the most seminal period of Kirby’s later career. Plus for perhaps the first time, Kirby’s work received an illustrative finish to his pencils when Al Willianson brought his Raymondesque sensitivity to the inking. Williamson had a softer more textured line than any inker over Kirby before, and the result over Kirby’s powerful pencils was astonishingly beautiful; a veneer of subtlety and natural lighting with an organic decorative sheen. Reminiscent of Hal Foster’s naturalness and texture, with Alex Raymond’s precision and grace. Al Williamson remembers; “I remember going up to Harvey and getting work there. They said” We haven’t got any work for you, but we have some stories here that Jack penciled. Do you want to ink them? I’d never really inked anybody else before, but I said, “Sure, because I looked at the stuff and thought, “I can follow this. It’s all there.” I inked it. They liked it, and gave me three or four stories to do.”

Joe edits seminal Kirby

Al Williamson inks

On Oct. 4 1957 sci-fi, technology, and Cold War socio-politics collided when the USSR launched Sputnik All eyes were now focused clearly at the skies, and a National purpose was ignited. Joe Simon or Al Harvey realized the importance and immediately assembled a new title. Race for the Moon #1 was rushed out in only 2 months. The Kirby cover was a lie, inside contained reprints of space themed stories culled from Harvey’s archives, mostly by Bob Powell. More interestingly is that the Kirby cover was blurbed in just about every Harvey book, yet the actual cover was changed from the blurb sample. The background world covered 2/3rds of the background on the cover blurbs, but the actual cover shows that the editor, possibly Joe Simon shrunk the background world to a small corner of the cover—perhaps to make the figures stand out stronger. This actually happened regularly as editors continued to make changes up to the last moment. Issues #2-3 contained all new stories by Kirby, centered on space exploration, national paranoia, and alien contact. Simon and Kirby also introduced a new team.

What Sputnik wrought

Following the template seen in Challengers of the Unknown, The Three Rocketeers featured Figures Faraday, an older scientist, Kip McCoy, a fearless pilot leader, and Beefy Brown, a brawny earthy engineer. All that was missing was a young hothead. Jack also mindful of the impact of Sputnik, had recruited Dave Wood, the writer from DC to work up a space based strip for newspaper syndication. The result was called Space Busters, inked by Marvin Stein. There was another unused strip called Surf Hunter with an incredible combination of Jack Kirby and Wally Wood.

Another Kirby group template

Kirby surrealistics – not of this world

Proposed Kirby strip w/Wood

While this was going on, word came down that Challengers of the Unknown was such a success that it was being given its own title. This was the first of the original Showcase features to get the gold ring, even before the resurgent super-heroes. The other editors were working overtime to come up with their own fearless adventure team. The Suicide Squad, Rip Hunter, Sea Devils, all followed the template forged by the Challs. DC had a new hit, and a new genre and Kirby gave it to them.

Joe was not the only one taking notice of the space race. In Jan. 1958, Harry Elmlark walked into the offices of National Periodicals. Harry Elmlark was a sales representative for George Matthew Adams Service, a syndicate house. He was looking for a space based strip that he could sell to the newspapers. He met with Jack Schiff, who showed him several concepts, but Elmlark wasn’t thrilled. Schiff suggested that he might be able to come up with something, and asked Elmlark for a couple days. Schiff went to Jack Liebowitz, General Manager of DC and told him about Elmlark’s request. Liebowitz explained that he had no interest in DC getting involved, but if Schiff wanted to pursue it on his own, he was welcome to try.

Jack Schiff then approached writer Dave Wood, Schiff had remembered that Dave had told him that he and Jack Kirby were working on a space strip concept. After being told of Elmlark’s request, Dave said that he would retrieve the samples and meet up with Schiff the next day.

Dave brought the samples to a Kirby strip entitled Space Busters, while not sure if Elmlark would be happy with the strip, Schiff discussed some story ideas and told Wood that he would show the samples to Elmlark. Later that day, Elmlark met up with Jack Schiff, and presented the samples. He liked the art, but wanted a stronger storyline. He said he was in a hurry as there was another artist’s work in the running.

Schiff met up with Wood and Kirby and they all agreed to take a crack at the strip, with Schiff supervising the script with Wood with Kirby drawing it. Dave Wood went home and along with his brother Dick, worked on an outline and brought it back to Jack Schiff. But Schiff was tied up with other business, he contacted Elmlark and explained that he wasn’t going to be able to do the feature, but would send Wood and Kirby to work directly with him.

Kirby and Wood met up with Elmlark, shared the sample strips, and listened to his ideas. The meeting went well. Wood would finish a script based on their shared ideas and Kirby would prepare new art immediately. Elmlark was heading out of town soon. The samples were soon done; Schiff liked what he saw and turned them over to Elmlark. Elmlark accepted the samples and took them on the road to sell the concept.

The Wood Brothers and Kirby started discussing a proposed contract, and part of the agreement was a 5% finder’s fee for Jack Schiff for his part of the deal. Word came back from Elmlark that he thought he had the concept sold. Negotiations and a binder agreement with the syndicate were drawn up on Feb. 10th, with no mention of Jack Schiff. The negotiations with the syndicate did not quite go to Jack Kirby’s satisfaction. It seemed that too much of the actual production cost of the strip was being placed on Kirby’s end, so the Woods and Kirby renegotiated their contract. Their talks broke down when they couldn’t work out an equitable percentage. Kirby decided to walk.

Later that day Kirby met with Schiff and they discussed Kirby’s reluctance. Schiff tried to reassure Kirby that it was silly to walk away now after his hard work. The next day, Kirby and the Woods met again and ironed out a new contract, this time with a higher split for Kirby, who had to pay for an inker, and letterer, plus supplies. They explained to Schiff that Kirby suggested lowering Schiff’s percentage to 3%, and they cut the difference and decided it would be 4%. Schiff agreed and said let there be no more disputes. They met up later and Schiff suggested they memorialize the agreement. Dave Wood and Kirby signed a letter of intent agreeing that Schiff would be paid 4% for his role.

That’s Jack Schiff’s story. For Kirby’s part he differs in some areas. Kirby was excited about getting a newspaper strip; it was every comic artists dream. But from the very first negotiations, Jack was upset. It seemed everyone wanted a piece of the action. Elmlark was getting it from the top, Wood and Kirby would split the remainder, with most of the expenses coming from Jack’s share. Then Jack Schiff chimed in, he wanted a cut also. Jack didn’t believe that he deserved a share, certainly not an ongoing percentage-possibly a one-time finder’s fee- but nothing more. To Kirby’s way of thinking, Schiff had dropped out of the deal when he turned the negotiations over to the Woods and Kirby, plus it was a Kirby drawn sample, done prior to Elmlark and Schiff, that they had used as a pitching point. It was Dave Wood and Kirby who closed the deal. Schiff was not involved with negotiations on a contract with the syndicate. None of the expected jobs of an agent were done by Schiff. Nothing of the deal was due to Schiff, except for passing along a phone number. Memories of Reese Rosenfield probably clouded Jack’s judgment.

Wally Wood loved drawing the ladies – Kirby’s best femme fatale

Kirby and the Wood Bros. worked on a contract and Dave suggested a gratuity for Jack Schiff. When Schiff heard, he refused a one time offer and demanded a percentage. When told of this, Kirby balked at giving Schiff a cut. Dave Wood said “If we don’t give him a percentage, he’ll be furious with you and maybe with me.” Kirby understood a shakedown when he heard it. His Lower East Side hackles rose up. The idea being that Schiff controlled the assignments for DC, and might cut them back. Jack understood the situation and relented. On April 15th, Kirby and Dave Wood met with Schiff and according to Kirby, Schiff made it obvious that there would be repercussions if Kirby didn’t agree. Schiff typed up a letter of intent and Dave Wood and Jack Kirby signed — Kirby reluctantly. Interestingly, Jack Schiff never signed-anything!

For most of the summer, things were going well. Production on the new strip Sky Masters was proceeding well. Unbelievably, Kirby was able to hire Wallace Wood to ink the strip. Wally Wood was a breath of fresh air that wafted in from the American Mid-West, cocky, restless, and talented. His work was imbued with all the right inspirations; he loved the cartoonists like Hal Foster, Roy Crane. Alex Raymond, and Milton Caniff, but also studied the new masters, like the elegant Lou Fine, and the energetic and dynamic Jack Kirby. He started in the early 1950’s, mostly with the small netherlands of American publishers like Fox, and Avon. He quickly graduated up to EC Comics, where Bill Gaines set him to work on his newly fashioned comics line. Wally produced work for almost all of Gaines titles; the romance, the war and mostly the sci-fi strips. Wally was so adept that he also worked on Mad Magazine doing parodies and caricature. When Gaines closed down the comics in 1956, Wally became one of the major artists on Mad Magazine. He also picked up some work providing covers for sci-fi mags like If, and Galaxy. Wally; both solely and partnered with Joe Orlando had created a body of work unequaled in the 1950’s. Wally was considered a penciler supreme.

He had come along and spearheaded the next great grouping of comic artists, Along with Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, and Al Williamson, et al. he ushered in the second wave of creative talent to the comic world. It was this supreme group that would partner with Jack Kirby to supply the Silver Age of Comics. It’s unknown just how Wally became available, and why Kirby would ever even consider him. It had been a long time since Wally inked other’s work. But it was a match made in comic heaven. Just as Al Williamson had brought an extra dimension with his soft textured inking, Wally Wood brought a talent for sharp as a knife, hi contrast, hyper dramatic inks. It was hard as diamonds, and gave the strip the depth and feeling of isolation and hi-contrast needed for a space based strip. All the surfaces became shiny and reflective with a feeling of artificial light throwing hard and sharp shadows, the perfect ambiance for the hi-tech claustrophobic life in deep space. As to how– the only reference was from Tatjana Wood who recalls Jack Kirby coming to the house and asking Wally to assist him. Why Kirby assumed a penciler of Wally’s talents would agree to ink a strip also remains a mystery. It may have been as simple as economics. The late 50’s were a horrible time for comic artists. With little work they searched other avenues. After producing 4 covers on a book series, Wally lamented “It’s not comic books, but it pays the bills.

Sky Master’s was different; it wasn’t an Alex Raymond space opera. The focus wasn’t on some futuristic world of alien societies or ray gun toting space western. It was set in the near future, with the modern technology of the nascent space race. It starts with man’s first attempt at space flight. The main draw was the attention to detail and the accuracy of NASA’s technology. These were real rockets, and existing space capsules, not the space darts of Buck Rogers, or Flash Gordon. It was immediate; the stories were taken from the daily headlines. The sub-orbital flights of Shepard and Grissom–the use of animals rather than humans, and fear of cosmic rays. The cast of characters fit the Kirby pattern. The brave laconic pilot hero,(Sky Masters) the science mentor, (Dr. Royer) and (Will Riot) the beefy Earthy mechanic sidekick, and friend from the Korean War and the quiet girl friend (Holly Martin) daughter of a senior pilot that Sky rescued, and her hot headed younger brother Danny. This strange mix of sci-fi and sci-fact was magical, Kirby bridging the ground and the stars, Wood supplying the texture and. ambience.

Kirby quickly brought in an active female presence in Challengers with June, a computer wizard who assisted the boys in Showcase #7. In Sky Masters, Kirby introduced perhaps his most sexual, animalistic, and driven female protagonist when he introduced Mayday Shannon- an ex-girlfriend of Sky’s and renewed rival for Sky’s affection.

Another radiation affected machine

This relationship was right out of a Simon and Kirby romance story. Mayday is Sky’s equal in every way and the perfect foil for his stodgy, straight assed, uptight military bearing, and no one inked more beautiful woman than Wally Wood. The training scenes are so realistic, due to the fact that Kirby was getting data and photos directly from NASA. Kirby said that NASA even invited him down to Cape Canaveral to experience the actual training program, and to witness flights. Neal Kirby, who loved airplanes and flying as much as his dad, used to look forward with great anticipation the manila folders sent to Jack by NASA.

Jack quickly added June Robbins. Wally Wood made her blond and gorgeous

Work at DC continued unabated. Challs got better and better. A back-up strip, Green Arrow became available when the penciler, George Papp was moved to a different book. Jack Kirby took over the strip in both Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics. Like most of the other DC super-heroes, Green Arrow was being updated, and Kirby supplied the updated origin story. And like every other Kirby title, it became a showcase for every wild sci-fi concept he could think of; alien Green Arrows transporting to Earth, time travel, hypnosis and gadget arrows a-plenty. But there was some blowback from other DC editors who thought the changes on Green Arrow were hurting the book. They went to Schiff and had him make Kirby revert back to the earlier simpler tales.

Thor’s hammer escapes from Journey Into Mystery – Green Arrow meets Kirby wrong one talking

Shortly, Wally Wood also became the inker for Challengers as of issue #4 and the book never looked so well. This accounted for Wally reaching a pinnacle. It was always a goal of comic book artists to get a gig at DC. They paid the highest, they sold the best and working there carried a cache of success in the business. Wally’s work for DC would be hit and miss, but this job was a good start. It also introduced Wally Wood—the inker extraordinaire –to the business, a job that Wally would do for the rest of his life. Interestingly, Jack inked many of the fantasy stories and Green Arrows himself. Roz would help out outlining the pencils in ink, and filling in the black areas. The extra money for inking was nice.

Green Arrow meets Kirby sci-fi

Jack was so into the project that once he met up with Wally at his house and saw Al Williamson—the soft illustrative inker from before at Harvey– working in the studio, and Jack recoiled in horror. Al recalled; “Wally told me later. He’s worried that you might be inking his stuff. I told him, “Don’t worry, he’s a good artist, but he’s not gonna touch this. Wally was a good guy, but Jack was a little concerned: What’s this guy doing here?” And he scared me. You don’t wanna mess with Jack!”

Eat your heart out Vince Colletta—Wally Wood

In June, 1958, Jack Kirby got a call from Stan Lee. The inventoried art that they had been printing during the Atlas implosion was running out. Martin Goodman gave him the green light to buy new art. The reduced output had been a mixture of romance, war, teen humor and old fashioned gothic horror. Incredibly, Stan’s favorite collaborator, Joe Maneely had died just a week before when he fell between train cars on the way home. With the new work, there is a sudden shift to the Post-Atomic sci-fi genre Kirby had been doing for the past year. Within one cycle a full 6 titles had been transformed into the new genre. Jack quickly became the #1 artist and the cover artist for Stan’s adventure books. Stan promised Kirby as many pages as he could provide. Steve Ditko became the de-facto #2. Wally Wood evened helped out inking a job- or maybe it was left over inventory from DC. Strangely, it fell to inker George Roussos to see the books and tell Jack and Stan that they had hit on something good. Stan muttered, “I’ll believe you when I see the sales figures.” The sales on the fantasy books leapt to the top of Atlas’ charts, they led the teen and romance books by 20%

At the same time, the two Liverpool moptops paid a local recorder to make a vanity pressing of the Quarrymen. Given to close friends, only a couple copies of this pressing remain. It contains the first recorded song by Paul McCartney and George Harrison on the back.

The earliest known recording of the Quarrymen on a vanity label doing Buddy Holly (1958)

The genius of Joe Maneely passed too soon – George “Inky” Roussos

In August, Sky Masters was just about to go to press. The strip looked great and all the work Kirby put into it showed on the strip. There had been some rumblings from Jack Schiff. Schiff approached Kirby and talked about renegotiating their verbal agreement for 4%. (The letter of intent was not a contract) According to Kirby, Schiff wanted a bigger piece, perhaps as much as a 10% sliding fee. Kirby was furious, he balked at original 4% because he didn’t believe that Schiff had done anything other than bring DC Elmlark and Wood/Kirby together. It wasn’t a Schiff sample that sold the strip. Schiff didn’t assist on the writing or art chores. Kirby said that Schiff made reference to his work at DC and how it might disappear if he didn’t cooperate. Kirby says it wasn’t done verbally, but with a wink and a nudge, as most strong arming is done. Kirby stood his ground, and in fact implied he might not even pay the 4%. The meeting ended with both sides upset, and still no signed agreement.

In late August tragedy struck. Dick and Dave Wood had a third brother, Bob Wood, a well respected artist who worked for years on Lev Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay. Gleason’s comic company was another casualty of the Comic Code Authority and Wood found work harder and harder to find. Bob Wood took to drinking and occasional work for sleazy magazines doing porno. On Aug 27th Bob was arrested for the grisly murder of his girlfriend. In a drunken rage, Wood battered the woman with an electric iron when she began pressuring him about marriage. Bob Wood would plead guilty to manslaughter and was sent to prison for several years. During this period the Wood Bros. became more and more distant. Constant attempts by Kirby to contact them were rebuked or channeled through the mother. Soon, all communications ended and Kirby took on the role of writer as well. Sky Masters finally saw print on Sept. 8, 1958 to great reviews. When sent their first checks, Dave and Dick Wood sent Jack Schiff the promised 4%. Kirby, true to his word, withheld payment. Now it was Schiff who was furious, and true to his implication, Jack was taken off the Green Arrow strip, and the fill-in fantasy tales. This left Kirby with only Challengers of the Unknown

Kirby’s breakthrough classics DC take on post-war fantasy

During this period negotiations continued. At one meeting Kirby agreed to pay Schiff a one time $500 payment for setting up the original meeting. But Schiff would have none of that; he wanted a continuing source of income.

Still later, Schiff had a dinner meeting with Jack Kirby to try to end this stalemate. Kirby held to his position when Schiff changed the subject to Challengers. He claimed that Kirby had stolen some ideas from a Challengers story conference between Schiff and Wood and Kirby, and used it for Sky Masters and that he thought that Jack owed Schiff for the ideas. Schiff went so far as to draw up a contract on a napkin stating Kirby would pay Schiff for the ideas. Jack exploded! First Jack claims they never had any story conferences with Schiff on the Challengers, and even if they had, the dispute would be between Schiff and the writers, not Kirby, the artist.

Masked villains, transistors, inter-dimensional travel and a kidnapped woman. Where’s the FF?
(this was still early in the process before the Woods began disappearing) Second, there is no evidence of shared work in the early Sky Masters and any Challengers story. This was a classic strongarm tactic. But Jack understood what Schiff was doing; he was laying the seeds for pulling Kirby off Challengers. If Kirby complained to Jack Liebowitz about losing the strip, Schiff had a cover my ass story. Shortly thereafter, Jack did lose the Challengers assignment. There was no repairing the riff. In Dec. 1958, Jack Schiff sued Jack Kirby for monies owed.

Kirby on top again

Looking back on his time on Challengers, Jack considers them a malleable venture, unfinished and evolving. “The issues I did were still formative and I can’t answer for what DC did with them. But they were heading for the super-hero image when I left. In many ways, they were the predecessors of the Fantastic Four.”

One interesting bit is that in Challs issue #9 the header reads “The Plot to Destroy Earth” with art by Bob Brown. In Jack’s files were unused pages to a Challs story called The Plot to Destroy Earth showing Kirby had started that issue when summarily told to stop. It’s obvious the breach wasn’t planned by Jack.

Jack was still doing Young Romance for Prize, and as agreed to by Stan Lee, his page count at Atlas continued to grow as he lost pages at DC. Jack was contributing stories to six fantasy titles, a couple westerns and now a war comic entitled Battle. The page rates were 2/3 of what DC paid, and going lower but the extra pages made up some of the difference. The fantasy books had fallen into a pattern. Gone were the gothic horror fantasies, replaced by Post nuclear BEMs. Jack Kirby would do the cover and the lead story, usually a 6-8 page monster story featuring a huge bug eyed alien or mutate trying to take over the world. This was followed by some more stories drawn by stalwarts like Don Heck, Paul Reinman, maybe Jack Davis or Joe Sinnott, and ended with a creepy Steve Ditko thriller. Steve Ditko was called back the same time as Jack and created a bookend duo for all times. As much work as Stan Lee could give him, Jack still had time to spare. Luckily sales had risen a few percent and Martin seemed happy.

Small titles added up

A little reality among the Atlas fantasy

In early 1959, Joe Simon got a call from John Goldwater, the head of Archie Comics. Goldwater had noticed the resurgence of superheroes over at DC, and asked Joe if he could package a couple new books for Archie. Archie had had some success at superheroes back in the forties with titles like the Shield, Hangman, and the Web, but had gotten out as the war ended. Joe told Goldwater that he would work on some ideas.

One of Joe’s first thoughts was of the shelved Silver Spider concept he had pitched Harvey in 1953. Another was an updated version of an old Golden Age character. This made sense since they were both reboots of previous Archie characters—the Web and the Shield.
The next day, Joe made a verbal pitch to Goldwater “A superhero who climbs straight up and down a building using a fine thread that he holsters in his costume like a fishing tackle.” Sounds like Night Fighter or the earlier Spiderman or the Web. The second book involved “an army private who did superhero chores in his spare time in a colorful red, white, and blue costume….Private Strong was….sort of like Captain America.” Goldwater liked both ideas and gave the go ahead for the two books on a regular schedule.

Jack and Joe together again

That night Joe called Jack Kirby. “Jack, I’m tired of the advertising game. We’re back in the superhero business.” Jack replied; “I thought superheroes were dead”’ “Not dead, just sleeping. We’re working on a new one. Come on over, let’s talk. It’ll be like Captain America again.” Joe answered. “A new superhero! Wow! What do you call him? Jack asked. “Spiderman.” Joe said.

It’s not sure if Kirby understood what Spiderman was, there’s some evidence that as early as the Mainline days that Joe had pulled out the old Silver Spider project and had reworked it into a character called Spiderman and even possibly evolving into the proposed Night Fighter; or if the idea of updating the Silver Spider was entirely new and Joe explained the idea of rebooting the old character. However it happened, Jack drew a new character- one with an origin gimmick copied from the Silver Spider- a young orphan finding a mystical ring and after rubbing it transforms into an adult superhero. The superhero aspect was all new, he now had spider like powers such as wall crawling, super-agility, super strength, uncanny extra senses that protected him from unseen dangers and gave him a vague awareness of trouble, plus a web shooter. These new powers were not found in the Silver Spider concept but several may have been borrowed from the Sid Jacobson memos. Jack drew up a couple stories.

Double splashes again

C C Beck’s first try

Somewhere along the line, John Goldwater made a decision to change the character from a spider to a fly. Spiderman was to become the Fly. Speculation is that this was in response to the popularity of the movie The Fly, starring Vincent Price, though it should be noted that in no sense of the word was the movie Fly considered as anything but a monstrous creature. Retconning that concept into a super-hero seems farfetched. Kirby’s first thought upon learning of the change was “A spiderman that walks straight up and down a building” If he’s a fly, why doesn’t he fly? Joe came up with a simple solution “So we’ll give him wings, small wings.” “Attached to his costume….the collar of his costume can be shaped like wings.” Joe told Kirby to “take it home and pencil it over in your immortal style.’ It should be noted that there was several different versions of the wings before it settled into an accepted style.

Jack reworked the idea into a fly, but it appears that Joe wasn’t totally satisfied. After getting the pages back, Joe swiped some Kirby poses from Stuntman and Fighting American and redid some panels. It is not known what the swiped panels covered up-perhaps some specific change in the costume not noticed by Kirby, but what is obvious is that nowhere does the Fly ever fly! Joe states; “except for a few minor details, like why would a fly fall from great heights because he was unbalanced by a bright light? And why does he climb up and down buildings when he should be flying like an honest fly? Neither of us bothered to change those silly problems. Who would notice them anyway?” In his bio, Joe points out a panel of the Fly falling and asks “Why doesn’t the Fly, fly? and answers; “Because he’s a spider.” Jack drew up a couple stories. Joe further explained to Will Murray; “Well, if you examine it carefully you’ll see that it was really the spider instead of the Fly. The Fly was originally the Silver Spider then it was taken to Marvel after we changed the name and became Spider-Man. One interesting quote from Joe highlights the transition. “Out went the web-pistol, The Fly now carried a buzz gun.” The problem with this is that the Silver Spider never had a web-pistol, so the only place a web-pistol could have appeared is from an intermediate character that had spider-like aspects.

Inventory pages finally used In Mainline ad: note blurb under Night Fighter title – where’s Foxhole?

Some of this scenario disagrees with Joe’s recorded version, but I believe this is more accurate than Joe’s often faulty reminiscences. J. David Spurlock, a respected historian agrees with my interpretation, he writes; ‘indicate (as my conversations with Jack did) that Jack updated the Silver Spider to Spiderman prior to switching him to the Fly.” Spurlock suggests that Jack was not brought into the process until it was being changed into the Fly-suggesting that Jack’s Spiderman was done at an earlier period, which might explain some of Joe’s confusion about just how and if Night Fighter fit into the overall picture.

Three inventoried Black Rider stories surfaced as filler stories in the Atlas western books, using up the material meant for Return of the Black Rider #2 pulled during the implosion. Found money.

The Double Life of Private Strong was unique. First the title referred to the hero’s alter ego, not his superhero moniker. The hero was called the Shield. The hero got his powers as a result of genetic engineering by his scientist father. When the father is being chased by Commie spies he flees and has a car accident. The child is thrown clear and found by a mid-western family and raised as their own. Now named Lancelot Strong, when he reaches his teen years the child finds the car remains and a costume. When Lancelot Strong donned the costume, it activated his super powers. He was invulnerable, could fly and had a radar sense that allowed him to see in the dark. When a typical Kirby Alien monster invades earth, the Shield jumps into action, during the fight Lances’ best friend is killed. Lance blames himself and his exuberance; he promises that he will be more responsible so that it would never happen again. A rather unique twist ending I have never seen before, but we would see again.

It’s hard to know just what inspires kids to get into comic art. In England at this time a youngster picked up a copy of this little remembered series, and the spark was lit. “The Double Life of Private Strong, which, incidentally, I had mis-remembered as The Private Life of Double Strong. Although some other hand was evident on the cover’s main figure, it was the background figures, and more-so, the vignette film-strip-like drawings by Kirby that framed the cover that caught my eye: I’d never seen figure drawing like that before, dynamic, fluid, highly romanticized. Kirby stunned me with that first issues interior work.” Barry Smith would draw on that Kirby inspiration years later.

Movie strip madness

Jack stayed on the two series for two issues. Private Strong was canceled after the second issue when DC complained that the hero was too close in several details to Superman. Joe would stay thru 4 issues of the Fly, when Goldwater decided he wanted to go in a different art direction. The strip continued for a few years. This was the last collaboration between Joe and Jack for approx. 15 years. It ended the greatest partnership in comic history.

Lancelot Strong – John Goldwater

Things seemed to be going well for Kirby at Atlas. Stan was giving him all the work he could. But behind the scenes, Martin Goodman was not happy. This wasn’t rare, according to Stan Lee, Goodman threatened to close down the comics division every other month. Sales were flat. In late 1959, while visiting Stan Lee at his office, Dick Ayers was told. “Dick, the sales of comic books are so bad—so bad that Martin Goodman, who is like an uncle to me, and is the publisher, doesn’t even say hello to me when he passes my office in the morning!” It’s like we’re on a ship that’s sinking.” “And like all the rats on the sinking ship—we have to leave.” We have to leave this business—quit drawing stories for comic books, Dick! Do something else!”

It should be noted that Dick Ayers was no fly-by-night artist, even during the implosion, Stan Lee had kept Dick Ayers working regularly on an ongoing strip. Something that artists like Joe Maneely, and Jack Kirby didn’t do. Dick took Stan at his word and got a job for the post office. Other artists, like Jack Davis, Al Williamson got no more assignments or refused the lower rates being offered, and inkers like Chris Rule were let go. Pencilers like Joe Sinnott, and Vince Colletta were downgraded to inkers. Atlas was experiencing another implosion. Kirby seemed not to be affected, the only difference was in the inking assignments, with Chris Rule gone pencilers like Dick Ayers, Don Heck, and Steve Ditko began inking over Kirby. Times were very tough. Though I doubt Steve Ditko was happy, it was always Stan Lee’s opinion that Steve Ditko turned out to be Kirby’s best inker. I find the results mixed, sometimes too heavy and sometimes just right.

Jack said that it was so bad that he went into Stan’s office and they were carting out furniture. Stan was distraught and told Kirby that Goodman was closing down the division. Kirby threw himself on Stan’s desk and wouldn’t let them take it. Kirby told Stan that he would go talk to Goodman and tell him that he personally guaranteed he would come up with new winners.

Most people assume that it’s one of Kirby’s embellished tales, but Atlas historian Jim Vadeboncour disagrees.

“I believe Kirby. Lee, who is still alive, is notorious for genial self-aggrandizing and Kirby’s story puts him in a bad light, just as it emphasizes Kirby’s creative role in the success that Marvel Comics was to realize. I take nothing away from Lee. His contributions channeled Jack’s energies as they’d never been before and magic happened. But, historically, left to his own devices, Lee has failed to create many lasting characters in his 20 years in the biz. Jack never seemed to run out of them”.

Kirby/Ayers the start of a long relationship

After a short hiatus, Stan contacted Dick Ayers to ask him if he would be willing to ink over Kirby’s monster stories. Dick agreed, but it seemed with every issue, the page rate decreased. Kirby liked Ayers inks. So did the readers who finally saw Kirby inked by a sympathetic hand. Chris Rule was the previous inker at Atlas, and his approach was way too timid for Kirby’s art. When Wally Wood left Sky Masters after a few months, Jack asked Dick Ayers to take over the job. While never matching Wood’s distinctive razor sharp sheen, Dick did an admirable job. He always suspected Jack and Stan Lee collaborated when it came to his payment for Sky Masters.

Kirby’s page count at Atlas continued to increase; he was now doing romance stories, war and back-up western tales other artists had been doing. Stan was mining Kirby for everything he could. Once Kirby started doing romance titles for Atlas, Prize Comics dropped him from Young Romance. With Young Romance #103, (Dec. 1959) his 13 year connection with Crestwood came to an end.

Jack’s last work for Prize

On October 16, 1959, the lawsuit with Jack Schiff came to trial. By all accounts, Kirby was a bad witness, stammering and stuttering incoherently in a combative manner. On December 3, 1959 the judge passed judgment. The judge had only two things to consider. Was there a legal contract, and was there any legal reason to void the contract. The first question was answered when the judge allowed the “letter of intent’ signed by Kirby and Dave Wood to stand as a legal agreement. As to the second question, the judge made clear that Kirby did not offer any tangible evidence of Schiff doing anything to void the contract. Though noting that the deal might have been an onerous one for Kirby, the judge had to rule in Schiff’s favor.

There is no evidence that Jack Schiff was anything but an honorable man, in fact there are several accounts of him being one of the more admirable people at DC. And Jack Kirby was also an honorable man, a man to whom constant work was a high priority. One must ask just what it would it take for Jack Kirby to voluntarily throw away the largest and most prestigious portion of his income- and the only logical conclusion is some principle that he couldn’t bypass. It’s possible that this dispute was based on both men misunderstanding signs given from the other and then pride setting in and concretizing their positions until the only way left was the judicial system. But that’s what the courts are for, and unfortunately for Kirby and his family’s finances, he lost. There is no shame to be apportioned, just lessons to be learned and bad feelings to be overcome. It seems that Kirby paid his judgment and continued on the Sky Masters strip for another 14 months until it was cancelled.

Ingenious vertical strip showing cabin depths – collected strips

For his part, according to Carmine Infantino, “Schiff basically had Jack Kirby blacklisted at DC”. Editor George Kashdan recounts it a little harsher, in an interview with Jim Amash.

JA: I’ve heard Jack Schiff said, “As long as I work here Jack Kirby will not work here.”

KASHDAN: He may have. I could believe it. Schiff was mad at Kirby over Sky Masters, and Schiff was temperamental. One day Kirby asked Schiff for assignments, and Schiff virtually kicked him out. and shouted at him, “What the hell do you want here with me?”
Kirby said, “I’m just trying to make a living Jack.”
Schiff said, “Well go make a living somewhere else.”

JA: Marvel was paying about one half of what DC was paying, but Kirby couldn’t get work from any DC editor. Do you think Schiff had something to do with that?

KASHDAN: The other editors joined ranks at the request of Schiff.

JA: Would Schiff have been mad if you hired Kirby?

KASHDAN: I couldn’t have done it with Schiff around.

JA: So was Kirby blackballed?

KASHDAN: Yes, virtually he was.

Kirby wouldn’t work at DC again until after Schiff retired. Joe Simon says that he ran into Kirby at some point after the trial with Kirby nattily dressed in a derby. Joe asked Jack about the strip. Jack replied: “I’ll never do another newspaper strip again!” “What do you think of the derby?” Joe wryly remarked “Watch out for the pigeons.”

But working on Sky Masters wasn’t all negative. Neal Kirby remembers his dad working on Sky. “I honestly think he enjoyed that more than the comic books. I know he loved doing Sky Masters. Neal loved it too; he loved the manilla envelopes that arrived with all the NASA technical data. “Sky was so far ahead of its time, it’s incredible. If you look at some of the things he designed: I remember one thing where he’s got Sky Masters floating outside the spaceship, he’s holding this wand which would shoot out little jets of air, and that’s how he moved around the spaceship. That’s exactly what the first astronauts used outside the early ships. NASA wasn’t in existence at the time,(ed. note NASA started July 1958) but there was this center where they were training jet pilots for early space flight. I guess they picked up on the comic strip, and they started sending him all this classified information. I remember him getting this lithograph in 1957 and it showed the entire rocket boosters built to date, and all the one’s planned out into the future, right up through Mercury, Atlas, the Saturn V, which launched the moon ships. There was one planned after the Saturn V called the Nova, which was even bigger, but was eventually scrapped in favor of the Space Shuttle.” “A lot he did without that material, It took a while for the strip to grab hold, before this little fan club, so to speak, within that early space community started sending him stuff.”

Joe Simon had bounced around between Harvey, Prize and advertising assignments, but in late 1959, Teddy Blier at Crestwood (Prize) proposed that Joe and Crestwood go into partnership on a Mad Magazine knock-off called Sick Magazine.(Aug. 1960) For the next several years this would be Joe’s main concern.

The Quarrymen settled in at a new club called the Casbah, formed when Pete Best’ mother opened up her basement. Sharing the bill with a group called the Blackjacks, John renamed the band Johnny and the Moondogs.

The Quarrymen soon to be Moondoggies

The industry as a whole was in a funk, sales had risen slowly following the Wertham debacle. Many retailers were stilled scared to stock any comics, let alone increase what little they had. Subscription service helped some fans get around weak distribution. DC had been seeing some growth due to the return of the Flash and success of Challengers of the Unknown. In a 1959 article, ABC the auditing bureau for comics sent out a missive in their monthly mailer, trying to spur growth. No mention of Atlas or other companies despite slow increases, which wasn’t unusual for the ABC. DC was still the largest and most respected of the publishers. They do note changes in the reading and entertainment habits of the children as well as adults with the growth of TV and paperbacks.


“During the past decade, retailers of periodicals have been living through tremendous years of decision. The last five years alone have seen several million-dollar developments for dealers, distributors and publishers. Some were gains… others were losses. The spectacular rise of paperback sales, for example, which now tops $12,000 per month. TV GUIDE, the little 15 cent weekly,is now earning around $1,200,000 in dealer profits every month! On the other hand, the Crowell-Collier magazines are no longer with us. The American News Company has folded. Millions of copies of many prominent titles formerly sold on the newsstands now reach their readers (buyers) via subscriptions! Comics dropped some 20,000,000 sales per month but are now creeping upwards again. Retailers do not always have an opportunity to participate in these momentous developments, all of which directly affect their profits. Right now, however, there is a great opportunity, a challenge really, to do something decisive about comics. During the past decade, comics hit the peaks… and the depths. Sales plunged from an estimated 60 million copies per month in 1952 to a low of approximately 30 million during the first few months of 1958. Today, sales are on their way up again, about 20 per cent better than last year! Behind this extreme variation in comics sales, is the dramatic life and death struggle of the most popular publication medium ever devised. Comics were soaring in the early fifties. In December, 1950, 303 new issues were released. This figure jumped to 434 in 1951 and 471 in 1952! These were the days of tremendous oversupply and great public agitation over sexy, gory and crime comics. That was the beginning of the decline. The numbers of issues per month slipped thereafter to 409, 321, 296… and sales proportionately! In the fall of 1954, the Comics Magazine Association of America established the Comics Code Authority to establish publishing standards and regulate contents accordingly. This industry organization was spectacularly successful! The minority of “nasty” comics were eliminated. The majority of acceptable titles became even more interesting and appealing. Public opinion wavered, then emphatically endorsed the comic as a healthy, wholesome medium of entertainment. The comic was saved! Normally, sales would have boomed a year or two after the Code Authority went to work, but another problem developed – television. It is no secret that today’s crop of potential young comics fans are plopped into their Baby Tendas and placed in front of the TV screen almost as soon as they are able to sit! They never get to acquire the comics habit as we used to know it. As a result, comics sales are somewhat improved, but they could and should be lots better!”

The decade was coming to an end. Never were Dickens’s words more prophetic. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Kirby was reduced to one comic account, but that one was giving him all he could handle. The decade held Jack’s most successful period. Yet the last couple years were as hard and painful as any he had ever had. His own company tanked, his parents had died, his partnership with his big brother ended, and he had been sued and humiliated by an editor. If there was to be a rebound, Kirby would have to do it by himself.

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Davy Crockett, Frontiersman: Hiding In Plain Sight!

In August of 2012, we published a re-worked  translation of Jean Depelley’s article about Jack Kirby’s ghosting of the Davy Crockett, Frontiersman comic strip. What was notable about the article, originally published in French earlier that March, was that Jean and Bernard Joubert found evidence that the work was, in fact, a comic strip reworked to comic book size in Marvelman (UK) , and digest size in Zoom (France).

Samples and cover from Marvelman 230

Examples and covers from Zoom 15/Zoom Album 4  – 1968

Since then, Hans Kiesel sent the Museum an email in late 2015, letting us know that he and fellow comics researchers in Germany found a Crockett Sunday strip in black and white translated into German that was obviously by Kirby. Hans also included a mention from Allan Holtz’ Strippers Guide stating that Kirby had ghosted two Sundays. I continued, on-and-off, researching the strip, along with Kirby’s Blue Beetle daily strips in the 1940s, on the internet without any results regarding Davy Crockett.

In early 2018, however, meticulous comics researcher Michael J. Vassallo, also known as “Doc. V”, shared on Facebook and his blog the color version of the same Sunday strip we’d had in German. Doc. V had embarked on an ambitious project involving scanning and cataloging the Sunday comics sections of the New York Daily News. Finding the strip in a big NY newspaper felt somewhat ironic after I’d scoured obscure daily newspapers on newspapers.com. This raised the question, though, “Did the daily strips also run in the NY Daily News?”

The Kirby Museum has had a pleasant relationship with collector, scholar and collage artist Tom Morehouse since our formation in 2005. In fact, Tom allowed us to scan his copies of the Crockett reprints in Marvelman in 2011 (see above). Since I’m comfortable researching newspaper microfilm at the New York Public Library – you know, the big one with the lions in front on 42nd St. &  5th Ave – Tom suggested we go there together and look at the Daily News microfilm. And, voila!

Kirby ghosted three weeks of daily strips from January 14th through February 2nd.

But what about that other Sunday strip? Well, on one of the Facebook comics groups where Doc V. shared his discovery, Mark Evanier mentioned that the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum has a large collection of comic strips. I dove into their search engine, and found that they did, indeed, have both Sunday strips, courtesy of the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection of Bill Blackbeard.

Courtesy of Bill Blackbeard’s San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University

And, it seems it is complete: three weeks of dailies, and two color Sundays.

It wouldn’t be right to end this article without mentioning Matthew Gore. You see, Matt posted Crockett scans from Marvelman #231 on his website all the way back in 2002! Can anyone provide reasonable guesses when the Marvelman issues 231, 232 & 233 were published? Seems that information is currently unavailable.

Hopefully, I’ll provide some comparisons between the versions, showing how the art was extended for the different formats in France and the UK.

Looking For The Awesome – 14. The Art Of The Swipe

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


Jack Kirby was depressed, a mood not usually seen in this overly optimistic person. The cyclical nature of his industry had taken its toll. Jack was no longer young and dumb—immune to the tribulations of an industry so controlled by outside pressures and sudden changes in popularity. Jack had always been adaptable and resilient, but he now had three children and a wife that depended on him. And as he said many times, “a man what don’t do right by his family is no man”

Jack hated these periods of retrenchment; starting out fresh at a new company, with no chits, no position of strength, no ability to force your vision to the forefront. The companies were preset in their ways and visions. They had their own ideas of what a good comic book was. At DC, they had a vision of clean static drawings telling little tales provided by their in-house writers, like John Broome, or Gardner Fox as interpreted by Dan Barry, or Gil Kane. At Atlas, their ideal was a Bill Everett or Joe Maneely with their overwrought scratchy inking telling Stan Lee’s ironic tales. The new guy had to fit in and copy the house styles and fit into the accepted modes. Jack always had trouble fitting into other’s styles. Jack was a leader, not a follower; he hated having to copy another style. He hated having to prove himself one more time. He didn’t need to ape anyone else, let them ape him. But Jack needed to take care of his family, and his personal visions could take a back seat for a while. He would climb the mountain again—or build a new one.

Artist Wally Wood once said “Never draw what you can copy. Never copy what you can trace. And never trace what you can cut out and paste down.

Jack Kirby once said “I loved Alex Raymond, I swiped him unmercifully”

Joe Simon says “hell yes, we all swiped.”

Swiping gets a bad rap. It’s how we learn. What’s the first thing a teacher did? She went to a chalkboard and drew the letter A and told you to copy it. And you did! Why? Because she knew what she was doing. Many of these early comic artists were untrained, so they learned by copying what successful artists were doing. In many instances they were specifically told to copy other artists. Sometimes the swipes are direct, sometimes compositional and sometimes nothing more than thematic, but it’s still the passing on of knowledge.

From Careers in Cartooning, by Lawrence Lariar, 1949;

“The business of learning to cartoon should begin with an imitation of the working habits of the professional. But most important of all for the amateur is the collection and filing of an adequate morgue. This is the term used in all forms of commercial art to describe the check file of reference material from which the artist can get authentic research on detail whenever he needs it. Many amateurs think that a collection of this type isn’t ethical or honest. This is not true at all. It is impossible for any creative artist to have experience with all subjects likely to be demanded of him in his day-to-day drawing assignments. Nobody expects a cartoonist to be able to draw everything and anything with perfect accuracy…..

The building of a morgue has other advantages, too. In the daily clipping and filing of research, the spark of interest in your craft will be kept alive. Some professional artists have morgues worth thousands of dollars, started when they were only students and steadily built into a masterful library of research. A cartoonist too must have research data at his finger tips. You’ll find that a variety of clippings of contemporary comics will be a great help to you. Using the work of the leaders in the field does not mean copying it line for line. But you’ll find endless inspiration in using professional work as a guide when you’re faced with a difficult pose your character must assume to put over a gag. Studying the essential construction of a professional’s cartoon can be mighty helpful and most hardy veterans in the trade use their file throughout a lifetime of cartooning because they know that the process of learning from others can never stop for a real artist. The use of a morgue is considered important in all types of art, including adventure comic strips, commercial art, illustration, lettering and fashion drawing.”

Jack’s early work was full of swipes. He swiped Segar in Socko the Seadog, Alex Raymond in several early stories and of course Hal Foster for the cover of Red Raven. Jack even swiped from a minor league artist at Fox Publications named Pierce Rice for his initial godlike poses for Mercury and Hercules.

Joe’s early works were nothing but swipes. He wasn’t trained in the art of sequential storytelling like Kirby. His background was in composing and producing advertising copy for newspapers and magazines; jobs where swiping was expected. Stories like The Fiery Mask in Daring Comics #6 are nothing but Raymond swipes; even the smallest non-essential panels were swipes.

As they quickly grew and became more confident, Simon and Kirby established their own style and as the Bible might say, it was good; so good that suddenly artist were swiping from them. Gil Kane once said,” I had a job with Mac Raboy drawing Captain Marvel Jr., and I brought in samples made up equally of Jack Kirby and Reed Crandall. He said, “Forget the Reed Crandall. Just stick with Jack.”

One of the earliest and best swipe of a Kirby character was the cover of Blue Beetle #26, Oct 1943, Holyoke) This was swiped from the splashpage of the Manhunter story in Adventure Comics #73, April 1942.

One of the more interesting swipes of Jack Kirby wasn’t even in a comic book. In 1950, a new sci-fi TV series was introduced. Tom Corbett-Space Cadet was written by Joseph Greene, based on the Robert Heinlein novel, Space Cadet. It became very popular, and soon other mediums picked it up. There was a radio program, a newspaper strip, and of course comic books–originally by Dell, but later by Prize Comics. There was also a series of juvenile hardbacks published by Grosset and Dunlap. The first title Stand by for Mars was published in 1952, written by Carey Rockwell and spot illustrated by Louis Glanzman, and had the great Willy Ley as technical advisor.

Louis S. Glanzman was born in Virginia in 1922, and is one of the great illustrators of the last fifty years. He was self-taught, and began his career by illustrating comic books when he was sixteen, alongside his brother Sam. They made the rounds of the comic publishers in the early forties. Their art was simplistic and generic, but they found constant work for companies like Centaur and Harvey. He proceeded to work on the Air Force magazine in the 1940s, and illustrated many children’s books in the 1950s, including the Pippi Longstocking series and Tom Corbett series.

Louis provided about a dozen spot illustrations per issue, and for the first three issues, at least half of them are direct swipes from Kirby sci-fi strips. What makes this interesting is not that he was swiping Kirby, but the variety of source material. He swiped from Cosmic Carson, Blue Bolt, Comet Pierce, Captain Daring, and Solar Legion. That’s at least five strips from five different companies and most unsigned and uncredited. He swiped machinery, weapons, vehicles, and a surrealistic Kirby alien vista; he even swiped costumes and female hairstyles. What an amazing coincidence that as part of his morgue was a collection of early Kirby sci-fi from small print companies, and short run series from a short period of Kirby’s career. It seems the artists of the period recognized Kirby’s work no matter where it appeared. When asked about these coincidences. Glanzman said he couldn’t remember the details, but “everyone swiped back then” “I may not have even known they were by Kirby”

In 1945 a one-shot titled K O Komics featured a reworked Guardian sketch on the cover. Though clearly produced during the war and signed JCA (Jason Comic Art-a small independent studio) the cover has been mistakenly credited to Jack Kirby.

Jack Kirby would dip into his reference morgue every so often. Jack’s gorgeous cover to Foxhole #1 was copied from a war reporter’s painting. A wonderful Boy’s Ranch vista was swiped from a painting. A Police Trap splash was taken from an old photograph.

Joe Simon elevated swiping to an artform. Whenever he felt the need to punch up a cover or panel, he would insert a swipe of a Jack Kirby figure. It made no difference if the styles were similar, or not. Many covers credited to Kirby are actually Simon constructs with Kirby swipes added in, especially on Harvey titles.

Joe reversed and swiped

Joe heavily swiped Fighting American

Joe borrows from Stuntman to show Fly’s sixth sense

The Fly and Double Life of Private Strong titles are uniquely assembled by overwhelming swiping. For the origin, Joe Simon claims that Jack took the script home and returned a few days later with beautiful pages “In my opinion, the best ever” This may have been so, but this didn’t stop Joe from redoing many panels of the Fly using Kirby swipes from Stuntman, and Fighting American. The reasons why are discussed in the chapter dealing with the Fly. In the stories not drawn by Kirby, there are these odd insertions of Kirby swipes, usually when the hero is in action. Certain poses are reused in both series. It’s almost like Joe Simon gave the artists copies of Fighting American and told them to randomly pick out Kirby poses and throw them in. Some are mechanically precise, while some appear penciled freehand.

Joe erased Bucky and rotated slightly bottom of Fly’s torso

The reworked stories in Fighting American are more problematic. Obviously reworking a previous Simon and Kirby Manhunter story is well within their rights, but taking a Jack Burnley, Starman story and reworking it into a FA story may cross the line. One or two panels maybe, but not the whole story and a dozen or more panels. That borders on outright plagiarism. It was cheesy and immoral. But when hurting for money, an artist must do what he must do.

Great cover but background swiped from Kirby war story

Even Joe’s biography cover is replete with Kirby swipes reworked.

There is another aspect of swiping, though swiping isn’t the correct word. It is the constant revisiting of concepts’ elements, visuals whatever idea has lodged in their brain and catches their fancy. It is the nature of all artists to rework and evolve their ideas. Kirby was a persistent dabbler in that he constantly would revisit a concept, or an element, maybe just an image that intrigued him. It may be something as simple as an alien baby running amok that the heroes must tame. A favorite was the villainous painter seen in early Cap, Boy Commandos, The Fly and Marvel. The dangerous movie lot got a lot of visits-at all companies.

Atlas – Harvey – DC – Marvel


Or Rock men-usually from Easter Island

Atlas – DC – Atlas

Marvel – DC

Or sentient machines threatening man

Harvey – Atlas – Atlas

Atlas – Atlas – Marvel

Kirby’s epic thinking machine Marvel

Or Aliens disguised as Earthlings

Atlas – Atlas – Atlas

Atlas – Atlas

My favorite—The Promethean Pose

Harvey – Marvel – DC

In a later chapter I will talk about some other Kirby repeat patterns such as Hollywood movies and such. I literally could have chosen over a dozen examples of Jack reusing ideas, premises and elements. It is something he did his whole career. I use this a lot in tracking down whether an idea stemmed from Jack, Stan or Larry etc. The trail of Spider-Man shows that Jack reused ideas from his old partner as well. Fair enough—Joe certainly borrowed enough from Jack over the years.

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Looking For The Awesome – 13. All Or Nothing At All

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe


After the war ended, the world once again descended into two great spheres; East vs. West, democracy vs. Communism, us vs. them! With the fall of Hitler, the Communists became the great Bogeyman. In a speech in 1947 the “good Jew” Bernard Baruch described the global situation as a “Cold War” spinning out of control. The Korean conflict and the Reds getting the bomb in 1949 due to Julius Rosenberg’s treachery, dominated the headlines. Movies such as The Red Menace and I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. focused much attention on the country’s paranoia. Sen. Joe McCarthy started a famous campaign to uncover Commies working undercover in the Govt. Could comics be far behind?

On June 19th 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were put to death by way of electrocution; thus ended one of the worst episodes of Jewish shame in U.S history.

Alas, there was no Harry Slonaker for Ethel and Julius. Their method of escape was joining up at Communist Youth clubs, where they rallied with labor unions for the betterment of the workers. The Communist youth groups were popular among the poor. They both graduated into the official Communist Party. When the fighting had ended, suddenly it was Communist Russia—earlier an ally, now seen as our biggest threat. After the war they joined a network of similarly minded people and began slipping American nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. Julius and other mostly Jewish accomplices were arrested for spying in 1950. When Julius wouldn’t finger anyone else, J. Edgar Hoover ordered his wife arrested–suspecting it would force him to confess and name names. Julius refused; they were tried and sentenced to death. The only members of the group so sentenced due to their unwavering claims of innocence and unwillingness to finger others. The stain of their treachery attached itself to all labor groups, and other Jewish intelligentsia who had dabbled with Communism in their youth.

Love kept them together-till the bitter end

The Jewish community was torn between the love of country and their fear of retaliation from the anti-Semitic populace- always eager to blame all Jews for the crimes of one. The inequality of the sentences for the Rosenbergs, as compared to their fellow conspirators riled many. Peoples as disparate as the Pope, Albert Einstein, Picasso, and John-Paul Sartre lobbied President Eisenhower for leniency. Sartre would describe the trial as “a legal lynching which smears with blood a whole nation. By killing the Rosenbergs, you have quite simply tried to halt the progress of science by human sacrifice. Magic, witch-hunts, autos-da-fé, sacrifices — we are here getting to the point: your country is sick with fear… you are afraid of the shadow of your own bomb.” On early Friday evening of June 19th they were executed- the only American civilians ever executed for espionage. Though their guilt is not debatable, the depth of culpability is still debated. Boris V. Brokhovich, the engineer who later became director of Chelyabinsk-40, the plutonium production reactor and extraction facility which the Soviet Union used to create its first bomb material, denied any involvement by the Rosenbergs. In 1989, Boris V. Brokhovich told The New York Times in an interview that development of the bomb had been a matter of trial and error. “You sat the Rosenbergs in the electric chair for nothing”, he said. “We got nothing from the Rosenbergs.”

S&K had an electric chair too

Perhaps in response to the anti-Jewish backlash, or a feeling of shared Jewish guilt, some of the comic owners went out of their way to show their all-American feelings. Reams of spy comics were produced. The Catholic Church began a series of strongly anti-communistic screeds and eventually the super-hero genre. Captain America, the great S&K political hero of World War 2 had been cancelled after the war due to lack of interest, but with the rise of the anti-Commie fervor, Atlas brought back the red, white and blue hero in late 1953 in Young Men Comics #24,  coincidentally timed to the Rosenberg execution. Relabeled as Captain America-Commie Fighter, the character regained his own series in early 1954. Taking on Commie spies and saboteurs, Cap and Bucky acted like they had never left. Submariner and Human Torch soon followed. The new series disappeared after only 3 or so issues, except for Submariner which lasted few months longer in hopes of a TV series.

It wasn’t only the comics that noticed a market for Cold War intrigue. In 1953 a long-time British Intelligence officer named Ian Fleming ignited a whole new genre when he released Casino Royale featuring super-spy James Bond-007.

Joe Simon had noticed the return of their iconic patriotic hero. Not to be outdone, he and Jack decided to get back into superheroes with their own Commie basher. Fighting American debuted with its own series published by Prize, cover dated April/May 1954. FA had a very interesting origin gimmick. Johnny Flagg was a radio commentator who specialized in anti-Communist propaganda. A war hero, left lame from a battle wound, he tirelessly fought to keep America safe. Johnny’s brother, Nelson was a weak milquetoast who loved his brother and country. During a series of broadcasts spotlighting a Commie scam to raise money to finance sabotage Johnny is nabbed and beaten to death. Swearing revenge, Nelson is asked by the Government to help out in a scientific experiment. The government had learned how to revitalize a lifeless body and improve it to almost superhuman limits. What the Gov’t needed was a life force to re-animate the new body. It fell to Nelson to willingly give his life to bring back his brother. After some preparatory procedures Nelson is strapped to a transfer chair where his life force is drawn from him and given to his dead brother. What emerges is the first original Cold Warrior, a hero created and dedicated to bring about the end of the Evil Empire.

All commies had bad teeth

From there, Fighting American would pick up a kid sidekick titled Speedboy when he is caught changing into his costume by a page boy at the radio station. This updated Captain America and Bucky began a spectacular legacy of bashing colorful Commie sympathizers.

It all became a big joke

Around this time, Sen. McCarthy’s popularity nosed dived when the respected journalist Edward R. Murrow took him on in a televised segment and exposed him as a hypocritical bully and blowhard. With the Senator reduced to a joke, Joe quickly changed directions for FA, changing the series from a serious adventure strip into the first satirical super-hero. From deadly saboteurs, the villains suddenly became colorful clowns and buffoons such as Rhode Island Red, Hotsky Trotsky, and Rimsky & Korsakoff. The action changed from seriously deadly to slapstick comedy. Joe commented: “Jack and I quickly became uncomfortable with Fighting American’s cold war. Instead we relaxed and had fun with the characters. As one critic wrote, “The fun ran rampant, Flying fists, facetious frolics and names from The American Dictionary of Silly Surnames set the mood for a series of epic stories of intrigue and idiocy.” Jack recalled in an introduction to a reprint collection. “The magazine had not only “punch and power” but still another flag to wave–satire–ingratiating and wonderful satire!…..To put it bluntly, the formula for the magazine called Fighting American was “laugh a minute in a roller coaster on its way down to the center of a meat grinder.”

Jack’s return to drawing super-heroes was flawless. His power and grace combined with a naturalness drawn from his romance strips gave his art a more illustrative dimension. His extreme stock poses and layouts on FA became the template and guidelines that controlled all his future superhero work. The first appearance of a future Kirby icon showed up in issue #3 when Kirby unveiled a single page 9 panel fight ballet. Another Kirby staple continued when Fighting American went undercover and joined a movie production staged by villains.

The comic industry had rebounded from the immediate post war slump, but by 1954, sales were again plummeting. The combination of the new technology of TV, plus the growing ill repute being heaped upon the industry took its toll. There were municipal hearings to ban comics. Some staes banned the books. There were numerous articles in newspapers and magazines excoriating comics and a supposed connection to juvenile delinquency. Religious and social leaders bonded together to organize book burnings and boycotts. Dell Publishing became the new comic publishing powerhouse due to its squeaky clean child safe Disney and TV and movie take-offs. No barber shop would ever be without them.
From a high of 609 separate titles in 1953, the industry plummeted to little more than 400 by 1955. Though sales and publishers were falling to the wayside, Simon and Kirby maintained their position with 4 solidly selling titles. But Jack and Joe were scrambling, comics were hurting so maybe they should try other venues. Joe Simon had a story he had been working on for a while about a struggling rag industry businessman at the end of his rope; and a savior—a messiah– in the guise of his brother David. The story didn’t lend itself to a comic book treatment, so Joe gave Jack the outline and Jack worked it up into a proposed TV script called The Messiah.

It is a gentle tale of a man given a second chance via his faith and the love of a good woman. The dialogue is gentle, and poignant, and humorous in a Jewish borscht belt vein. In the midst of his despair, the man confronts God and challenges him, his wife chastises him. “Don’t be so smart about the Messiah. He can come tomorrow. He can come now, this minute. He can come through that door over there and He’ll say Milton Farber, you’re as big as any man. You should be ashamed of losing your spirit” It’s not a stretch to imagine that Roz had often confronted Jack with similar encouragement during his dark periods. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the story takes place in a garment district textile factory, and the man is a clothing manufacturer, replete with union concerns and behind the scenes deals. It’s not known if they shopped this script to any producers, but it certainly deserves to be seen on a stage, maybe even a musical to rival Fiddler on the Roof.

Printing presses were looking for clients to fill their lost quota of product. While still maintaining their contractual output for Crestwood just in case they belly-flopped, S&K took every royalty penny they had built up since the end of World War Two, along with the distribution clout of paper and printing broker George Dougherty, Jr. (a long-time paper broker for the lumber industry whose father had been one of the printers at Eastern Color on Funnies On Parade back in 1933) who was fronting the paper. A commonplace 25% deposit was advanced by Leader News to World Color Press in Sparta, Illinois against projected sales to cover the printing and engraving costs. Joe and Jack felt they were making all the right moves utilizing the expertise of Nevin Fidler, who also owned a small piece of the action. Nevin Fidler was a friend who had been an office director at Crestwood, and was familiar with all the production people. Joe had dreamed of this freedom for a long time, at least as far back as when they sold Crestwood on romance comics. So he leapt at the chance. The distributor chosen was Leader News, an independent whose largest client was EC Comics.

Leader came into being when Mike Estrow broke up his pulp Trojan distributor with the new comic distributor to be Leader News. Leader News’ independence meant that the smaller publishers would flock to them as their commission was lower and shipping standards weren’t too high to demand stellar service. Most of Leaders’ clients were the hit and miss small print variety. It’s been said that DC’s Jack Leibowitz was a silent partner. And that he would point small companies to Leader when they were too small to use DC’s distribution firm. Being without the bigger selling books, Leader News had no clout and was always one step from the creditors. William Gaines recalls in an interview for the Comics Journal.

“No, no, we were putting out what we thought was selling. We were like the smallest, crummiest outfit in the field at that point with definitely the worst distributor, Leader News.  When he (Max Gaines) went back in business, he was without contracts, he didn’t have his characters any more, he didn’t even have Shelly Mayer, because Shelly Mayer was up at DC, and this was the best distributor he could get. And when he got killed, Leader News became my distributor.”

Two page spreads back in action

Joe and Jack went all in and immediately produced four new titles, each covering a specific genre. Bullseye was a western with a masked vigilante slant. In Love was a romance book, Police Trap was a crime comic with a pro-police POV, and Foxhole was S&K’s first venture into the growing war comic genre. War comics had increased in popularity since the US involvement in the Korean War.

While the content of the Mainline books were nothing revolutionary, several aspects of the titles deserve mentioning. Foxhole –billed as war stories as seen by the guys in the foxhole– featured tales written by actual vets; Pvt. Jack Kirby among them. Several stories featured Kirby’s byline as writer. Kirby also produced a series of covers for Foxhole as good as any title ever had. Bullseye continued Kirby’s preoccupation with the western orphaned child raised by an older mentor and trained as a sure shot. When the mentor is killed by a villain, the young teen avenges the murder by killing the villain. This time they added the concept where, after mistakenly charged with a crime, the young lad dons a mask and uses his skills as a masked vigilante, and scout. The character had a great visual focus when the child is branded with a bullseye on his chest.

In Love was packaged as a complete novelette in every issue. The story for issue #1 was an incredible 20 pages long. The second issue would feature the rejected strip Inky reformatted into a comic book story. And Police Trap was written from the perspective of the policeman rather than the mobsters—perhaps an homage to the radio and TV series Dragnet.

A new page to tie Inky together for the comic

Joe and Jack never stopped conceptualizing, while working on the four ongoing titles; they still worked on other ideas. They considered bringing back super-heroes. They worked up artwork for at least three new characters, Night Fighter, Sunfire and Sky Giant. Of most interest is Night Fighter.

The two presentation pieces seem to show a goggle eyed hero who could walk up walls, and sported some sort of gun. These specific aspects would be revisited in a couple years for a more important project. It’s not sure if they were connected. One dummy cover shows a split book featuring two super heroes very similar to the format that Marvel would use later, even down to the small graphic in the upper left hand corner.

Times were getting tough for small undercapitalized ventures. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito’s company folded. Jack’s young protégé Martin Rosenthall had joined Mikeross as a partner. When they failed, Rosenthall contacted Jack and sold some of the company’s assets to Mainline. Several completed stories found homes in S&K publications.

Not bad for a swipe     Hold that hill-Wertham and Kefauver charging hard

The next problem was to be more worrisome. The undercurrent of social protest against comic books reached the surface. The pressure had been building since comics first began. There had been slight eruptions over the years, but in April 1954 the top blew off during a series of Congressional hearings.

2-page classic

As with all low brow entertainment, there had been a segment of the population that had always condemned comics as a hazard to young sensibilities. The raucus, racy, and reckless nature of some publishers had created a climate of disdain and anger from citizens groups, religious leaders, and well known medical people. Organized book burnings were sprouting up. In several well publicized articles a well known psychiatrist, Fredric Wertham had made the dangers of comic books a personal crusade. In April 1954, he published a well received treatise entitled Seduction of the Innocent, which spotlighted the questionable connection between comics and juvenile delinquency. In a format similar to Anthony Comstock’s earlier screed Traps For The Young, that excoriated the juvenile series books, it laid a large segment of juvenile delinquency squarely at the feet of the crime, horror, and romance comics, singling out EC’s horror titles as the worst offender.

The biggest threat was that Dr. Wertham was no glory seeking hack, or political poseur. Wertham was a well respected Dr. who could articulate and verify all his claims-at least to the general public. Born in Germany, in 1895 to Jewish parents he went into psychiatry after communicating directly with Sigmund Freud. He came to the US in 1922 after some religious backlash. He landed at prestigious Johns Hopkins University and joined the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic. In 1932 he moved to New York to head up the Courts Psychiatric Evaluation Unit and gave testimony on the various felons and convicts on their behavior and ability to stand trial.

He took up the cause of stopping comics, as well as TV, mass media, and other forms of communication after heading up a juvenile psychiatric ward at Belleveu. He wrote articles, gave talks, and held debates to back up his theories. He published his book Seduction of the Innocent —which led to hearings in front of the US Senate.

A few days later, a Senate Subcommittee held hearings on juvenile delinquency. Chaired by Sen. Estes Kefauver the committee heard from many sociologists, medical specialists, (including Wertham) crime fighters, and religious leaders telling of the connection between comics and j.d. Then they turned to comic professionals to get their take. Things were actually going well until EC’s Bill Gaines took the stands, Gaines arrogantly unapologetic testimony seemed to solidify all the prurient uncaring notions thrown at the industry. Charges of prurient females with large protruding breasts, and comic overkill hurt the image. Perhaps the worse testimonies was by Dr. Wertham, who claimed that many stores were reluctant to sell the offending books, but were forced to by the magazine distributors who refused them other magazines if they didn’t take the comics as well.

From Dr. Wertham’s testimony;

Dr. WERTHAM. This tremendous power is exercised by this group which consists of three parts, the comic book publishers, the printers, and last and not least, the big distributors who force these little vendors to sell these comic books. They force them because if they don’t do that they don’t get the other things.

Mr. HANNOCH. How do you know that?

Dr. WERTHAM. I know that from many sources. You see, I read comic books and I buy them and I go to candy stores.

They said, “You read so many comic books.” I talk to them and ask them who buys them. I say to a man, “Why do you sell this kind of stuff?”

He says, “What do you expect me to do? Not sell it?”

He says, “I will tell you something. I tried that one time.”

The man says, “Look, I did that once. The newsdealer, whoever it is, says, ‘You have to do it’.”
“I said, ‘I don’t want to’.”

“‘Well’, he says, ‘you can’t have the other magazines’.”

So the man said, “Well, all right, we will let it go.”

So when the next week came, all the other magazines were late. You see, he didn’t give them the magazines. So his was later than all his competitors, he had to take comic books back.

I also know it another way. There are some people who think I have some influence in this matter. I have very little. Comic books are much worse now than when I started. I have a petition from newsdealers that appealed to me to help them so they don’t have to sell these comic books.

S&K fully involved

One of the stranger aspects dealt with Wertham painting organized opposition to his theories as Communist conspiracies promoted by the comic companies. (perhaps a swipe at Lev Gleason)

Curiously, one Senator tried to get the doctor to condemn the writers and artists who made these horror stories but Dr. Wertham would have none of that.

Senator HENNINGS. Doctor, I think from what you have said so far terms of the value and effectiveness of the artists who portray these things, that it might be suggested implicitly that anybody who can draw that sort of thing would have to have some very singular or peculiar abnormality or twist in his mind, or am I wrong in that?

Dr. WERTHAM. Senator, if I may go ahead in my statement, I would like to tell you that this assumption is one that we had made in the beginning and we have found it to be wrong. We have found that this enormous industry with its enormous profits has a lot of people to whom it pays money and these people have to make these drawings or else, just like the crime comic book writers have to write the stories they write, or else. There are many decent people among them.

Let me tell you among the writers and among the cartoonists ─ they don’t love me, but I know that many of them are decent people and they would much rather do something else than do what they are doing.

Dr. Wertham reads some trash – Sen. Estes Kefauver – Bill Gaines

The owners of squeaky clean Dell Comics tried to add in facts and a subtle dig at the Doc.


Mrs. MEYER. Mrs. Helen Meyer, 231 Montrose Avenue, South Orange, N. J. I am vice president of the Dell Publishing Co.

Mr. MURPHY. My name is Matthew Murphy, of 294 Bronxville Road, Bronxville, N.Y. I am employed by Western Printing & Lithographic Co., as Dell comics editor.

The CHAIRMAN. You may proceed.

Mrs. MEYER. Although we are not here to defend crime and horror comics, the picture is not as black as Dr. Wertham painted it. We must give our American children proper credit for their good taste in their support of good comics. What better evidence can we give than facts and figures. Here they are:

Dell’s average comic sale is 800,000 copies per issue. Most crime and horror comic sales are under 250,000 copies.

Of the first 25 largest selling magazines on newsstands – this includes Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Life, and so forth ─ 11 titles are Dell comics, with Walt Disney’s Donald Duck the leading newsstand seller. Some of these titles are: “Walt Disney’s Comics”; “Warner Bros. Bugs Bunny”; “Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse”; “Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Porky Pigs”; “Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker”; “Margie’s Little Lulu”; “Mom’s Tom and Jerry.”

The newsstand sales range from 950,000 to 1,996,570 on each of the above mentioned titles. I mean newsstands only and I am not including any subscriptions, and we have hundreds of thousands of subscriptions.

With the least amount of titles, or 15 percent of all titles published by the entire industry; Dell can account for a sale of approximately 32 percent, and we don’t publish a crime or horror comic.

Dr. Wertham, for some strange reason, is intent on condemning the entire industry. He refuses to acknowledge that other types of comics are not only published, but are better supported by children than crime and horror comics. I hope that his motivation is not a selfish one in his crusade against comics. Yet, in the extensive research he tells us he has made on comics, why does he ignore the good comics? Dell isn’t alone in publishing good comics. There are numerous outstanding titles published by other publishers, such as Blondie, Archie, Dennis the Menace, and so forth. Why does he feel that he must condemn the entire industry? Could it be that he feels he has a better case against comics by recognizing the bad and ignoring the good?

Lev Gleason, head of Gleason Publishing and a staunch first amendment defender, volunteered to face down the committee and try to smooth out the ripples from Gaines testimony. Though the committee never acknowledged a concrete link between comics and juvenile delinquency, the damage was done.

This period of history is complicated. I am of at least two different viewpoints. I think the government and legislative overkill is wrong, totally Un-American. The same as the HUAC hearings. The results are always a lessening of American values. But as an adult viewer, I must admit that some publishers crossed a line. Left unstopped, they would have gotten worse. There was no outside brake that controlled the output of these companies. The only control was left to the publishers whose only concern was the bottom line. Self-censurship was really the only way to go. Like the Hays Committee, TV, and other pop culture clashes, these cures had to come from the industry itself, or face the possibility of Government oversight. The details could possibly be argued, but not the intentions. Something had to be done to stop the outrage. This outrage came from the only party that counted, the consumers. Wertham was wrong, but his crusade was right. The comics had overstepped the bounds of decency. And it was left to the comic pros to make it right. One analogy might be found in the later Anti-war movement. Many might agree on the principle, but they were lost when the movement overstepped and blew up College buildings and killed people. Overstepping invites Govt. intrusion, which leads to Govt. overkill. Better to separate from the bomb throwers willingly.

An actual voice of reason Lev Gleason – Dick Ayers troubled

Joe says the din over comics never affected them much, they were sure that their books were wholesome. Imagine their chagrin and consternation when one of the first objectionable comics offered into evidence was a copy of Black Magic. Joe recalls; “Watching this on TV I cringed- like I was suddenly thrown into a steaming vat in a horror comic.” Jack hoped the storm would pass over—but he knew the image of a comic reader was strictly lowbrow. “If you bought a comic book the reaction was there goes a guy who shoots pool—another lowly pastime. But some comic artists were very affected. Dick Ayers, in his biography talks about the horror of reading Parents Magazine and finding that several of his books were listed as objectionable, and being called a pornographer by a guest at a cocktail party and almost coming to blows. Dick became so distraught that he actually held a book burning of his books in his fireplace. Jack was more stoic; “I was only hoping that it would come out well enough to continue comics, that it wouldn’t damage comics in any way, so I could continue working. I was a young man. I was still growing out of the East Side.” Other artists were in a whirl. Jack Cole, creator of the family friendly Plastic Man fled the industry. Doing racy gags, and Playboy cartoons, much like Bob Wood, didn’t help. His personal life took a downturn and one day he drove to a shop, bought a rifle, drove to a secluded area and blew his brains out. Many turned to the advertising field, and some to fine art work. Some adventure artists took lower paying and lower presence work in DC’s romance division. Stan Lee’s Atlas Company tried to absorb many of the EC artists to supply filler stories for the many faceless titles.

In order to avoid legislative censure, the comic industry agreed to once again self-censure the books. An earlier manifestation had petered out with time. With the creation of the Comics Code Authority, the major companies united to self-regulate. They agreed to limit or end all types of violence, horror, and risqué matter. In what is often called the EC section the code states.

burning up a college education

No comic magazine shall use the word “horror” or “terror” in its title.

All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.

All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.

Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.

Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.

Bill Gaines railed against this section, noting that the words “horror” and “terror” were parts of two of his best sellers. Gaines was sure that this section was set up purposely to put him out of business. It seemed to work as sales of EC books dwindled to insignificance.

It was suggested that the word “crime” should also be banned from a comic book title, but Lev Gleason, the publisher of Crime Does Not Pay fought tooth and nail to get that restriction stopped. It didn’t matter, with-in a year Gleason closed up shop for good. Gleason was more respected among his peers and had been fighting the backlash for years—even debating Dr. Wertham on radio and TV. Gaines was seen as more of a Johnny- come-lately and a bomb-thrower among his peers. Ironically, Gaines would get the last laugh. After the code appeared, Mad Magazine became so large of a success that DC bought out Gaines and added it to their portfolio.

Very quickly problems crept up. Their ruse to hide the new company from Prize didn’t last long. Prize’s reaction was that when S&K started their own company Prize cut back their assignments on the romance and crime titles. All that remained was Fighting American and Black Magic. It appears that Prize wouldn’t let them compete head to head on genres, so when S&K did their own romance book, then Prize took them off Young Romance and Young Love. A self published crime book and no more work on Justice Traps the Guilty. The 67 issue run on Young Romance was the longest uninterrupted stint that Jack had produced in his career to that point.

Times were horrible, pressure from outside, pressure from within. Prize kept threatening, Leader News went bonkers, artists kept demanding. Sales on the new titles were lackluster, and very soon money became tight. In an effort to cut back on expenses, Joe reused some artwork and reworked it into new stories, mostly for the Prize titles. Joe swiped a Manhunter story from 1943 for a Fighting American story, plus a Jack Burnley Starman story from 1942 for another Fighting American story. He even cobbled together an old comic strip proposal titled Starman Zero and made a Fighting American story. Nothing went to waste. When the owners of Crestwood caught Joe reusing a previous story and reworded it into a new story they responded angrily by withholding payment, further tightening up the cash flow. Now Jack and Joe’s contract with Crestwood never said anything about reusing existing art, but still Crestwood continued to hold back payment. In Nov. 1954, Joe contacted his accountant Bernard Gwirtzman who demanded a financial audit of all monies to be paid to S&K, as called for in their Young Romance contract. Crestwood was confident that their books were clean but when the auditors were finished, they presented Crestwood with a bill for 130 thousand dollars. The astonished owners threatened to close down the shop rather than pay the money. After some negotiations, they settled on a lump sum of 10 thousand dollars. The money helped stem the immediate cash outlay. The victory was nice, but the long term result was that the boys would get no new work from Prize for the next year, time that saw S&K reeling from the onslaught. An interesting aside, Joe says that the editor Reese Rosenfield was getting five percent of S&K’s royalty shares, for bringing them together. But after the attorneys finished their audit, they told Joe that Reese wasn’t protecting their shares, as he should have done as their agent. He suggested cutting Reese out of the money that Prize paid, which they did. It’s easy to figure this soured Kirby towards editors who demand a payback of the artist’s salary, but don’t follow through on their end.

Some retailers took it out on Leader News, and refused to carry any product from them–this included the Mainline books. Pretty soon, the advances from Leader News stopped and Mainline could no longer continue. Stories of artists not getting paid made the rounds. George Roussos remembered; “When some difficulties arose, a few artists weren’t paid. This caused a lot of resentment towards Joe and Jack, and they avoided them. I met Jack later at an art store at Grand Central Station. He was happy to see me, and I sensed he wanted to talk…. We covered every subject, only he did all the talking. I guess it was pent-up energy and he was rather hurt that people took out their anger on him-unnecessarily he felt.” Mainline left Leader News.

Stamped out

For perhaps the only time, Jack and Joe were on the outs. Roussos recalls; “I don’t know the extent of what really took place, but there was a point when they split up when we were working at Crestwood’ Joe took the business end of it and Jack would do the artwork. That didn’t work out very well, because when you split up two people in the same room…… I never dwelled into the business end; I just knew the superficial end. I knew the results of what happened, but I didn’t know what brought it about. I knew that they split up while in the same room because I was there. There were differences but I was never around when they had any particular argument.”

Soon, Leader News claimed bankruptcy and went completely out of business when EC Comics closed up the comic book division, leaving them with only Mad Magazine–which was not covered by the Comics Code Authority. The first Comics Code stamped book for Mainline were books cover dated Feb. 1955. They were the last published with the Mainline logo and Leader News blurb.

It’s hard to be exact about just how much the code affected the editorial content of the books. There are many silly examples of nitpicking and squeamishness of particular visuals-such as hands without weapons, reaction to unshown threats, and blacked out details. But I can recall only one rather sad and silly argument over content of a story. Despite the romance books delving into societal problems, there were two they would never touch; racial integration and gay lifestyles. S&K never ventured close to either. Interracial relationships or even positive slants on black life were understood to be forbidden. Bill Gaines of EC, shortly after the code was installed offered up a filler story for Incredible Science Fiction. The story, titled Judgment Day was drawn by veteran Joe Orlando, it dealt with a lone Earth astronaut judging whether a young world was ready to be admitted to the greater galaxy of worlds. The astronaut judged them ineligible because their society had been broken up by races with one race considered a lesser entity and treated as such. The irony was that when the astronaut returned to his ship, he took off his helmet revealing himself to be black. A rather positive story in that it showed man had overcome its darkest stain. Judge Murphy, the head of the comics code refused to allow it to be printed, despite the fact that the comics code never addressed racial interests. The story broke none of the listed no-nos of the code. The real insanity of the whole issue was this same story had originally been run three years earlier-pre-code- in the title Weird Fantasy to absolutely no blow back or even negative press from the Southern retailers.

Historian Digby Diehls notes in his article Tales From the Crypt, the Official Archives:

“This really made ’em go bananas in the Code czar’s office. ‘Judge Murphy was off his nut. He was really out to get us’, recalls [EC editor] Feldstein. ‘I went in there with this story and Murphy says, “It can’t be a Black man”. But … but that’s the whole point of the story!’ Feldstein sputtered. When Murphy continued to insist that the Black man had to go, Feldstein put it on the line. ‘Listen’, he told Murphy, ‘you’ve been riding us and making it impossible to put out anything at all because you guys just want us out of business’. [Feldstein] reported the results of his audience with the czar to Gaines, who was furious [and] immediately picked up the phone and called Murphy. ‘This is ridiculous!’ he bellowed. ‘I’m going to call a press conference on this. You have no grounds, no basis, to do this. I’ll sue you’. Murphy made what he surely thought was a gracious concession. ‘All right. Just take off the beads of sweat’. At that, Gaines and Feldstein both went ballistic. ‘Fuck you!’ they shouted into the telephone in unison. Murphy hung up on them, but the story ran in its original form.”

Bill Gaines finally gave in and closed down the comic division, but would get the last laugh as the reconstituted Mad Magazine (code free) became one of the great publishing successes of the Twentieth Century.

To make matters worse, at the same time that Mainline folded, S&K were engaged in the legal mess with Prize Comics and work at Prize ended. Fighting American was cancelled after issue #7 and Black Magic after 33 issues. Black Magic’s end should not be dismissed so easily. It was in Black Magic that Jack first worked in a new genre that would play a huge role in his immediate future. It was also the launching point for new artists, like Steve Ditko.

The Fifties would see the rise of new style sci-fi films. With a background of a world divided by an Iron Curtain, man had created a force so strong that it dominated the world’s psyche. The anxieties as seen in the rise of Sen. Joe McCarthy, the fanned Cold War paranoia, the UFO phenomenon, and uncontrollable science found a new source of projection; the introduction of Post Atomic Science Fiction movies.

From The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction;

“It was films in this mould (Them, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) rather then the landmark Destination Moon (1950) and its sober celebration of man’s imminent conquest of space, that dominated the decade. Monsters from without and within–Hollywood and comics were investigated by the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities– threatened America, as often as not created or awakened by the bomb (as in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, 1953) Nature rebelled and a variety of aliens, many of whom, like The Man From Planet X(1951) had peaceful intentions were received with hostility. A few films, like The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) and The 27th Day (1957) addressed themselves directly to the political implications of such anxieties, while others, notably War of the Worlds (1953) and When Worlds Collide (1951) had a religious dimension that saw it as a punishment for the catastrophes that befell man.”

TV leads the way

This same style science fiction mode was seen on TV with the new series Science Fiction Theater, produced by Ivan Tors. This was the first anthology devoted to the futuristic world of post-war fears. The series speculated on such things as visitors from other planets, UFO incidents, space fight, espionage… More technology, and miracle drugs that could cure all ills. It contained stories of crackpots; who turn out to be visionaries, and eyewitnesses to the fantastic, fighting to be believed; psychic phenomena straight out of a Reichian nightmare. The show also utilized experts as consultants to help keep the show within the known realm of the scientific possibilities speculated at the time. The show did not last long, but it did lead to even better followers like Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits.

Instead of the old Gothic horrors of Dracula, and the Werewolf, the new films centered on run amok science creating mutates, and allegorical visitation of alien species. Things that didn’t seem so farfetched when viewed thru a current prism. The Thing, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Them, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers were big hits. And comics always followed the big hits. “The monster phenomenon got started primarily just because people were concerned about science,” Kirby recalled. “People were concerned about radiation and what would happen to animals and people who were exposed to that kind of thing.” Their fears had been awakened at Roswell.

The movie that launched a 1000 comics

Though the sci-fi movies were definitely an inspiration, the author feels the genre change can be traced back to the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, in 1939 by Orson Wells and the paranoid reaction to a sci-fi subject as well as the sci-real atomic bomb.

Jack and Joe always loved sci-fi and the sci-fi movies, and incorporated themes into their stories. The newly formed CCA also prohibited much of the Gothic horror traditions. The next to last S&K Black Magic issue cover featured a strange monster very similar to the fantastic “intellectual carrot” of The Thing, as portrayed by James Arness. The last S&K story in Black Magic centered on, and was narrated by a shark mutated by atomic radiation to the point of sentience. The story Lone Shark was a chilling tale of run amok science and the unforeseen consequences of atomic energy plants and the dumping of atomic waste. There is also an unpublished Black Magic cover featuring a burnt out wasteland with alien scientists in hazmat gear and Geiger Counters checking out the charred remains while a huge mutated creature hovers in the background. In Win-A-Prize #1(Feb. 1955) published by Charlton, Jack drew a wonderful allegorical tale of the first visitation from space and the inherent fear and paranoia in the human reaction. This genre so resonated with Jack, it was said that Jack hoarded reams of science fiction magazines and pamphlets, and when he died, the garage was full of them. Jack was always at his best when his stories had a sci-fi basis. Joe would recall that Jack was “the pulp man-he used to read all of them, especially the sci-fi ones.” Jack would even insert sci-fi scenarios into other genres like western stories, such as a Bullseye story set in a lost prehistoric wasteland populated with pterodactyls, or a land based Fighting American trapped in a deep space dream.

Joe, reeling from the failure of Mainline, still had faith in the books, and took them over to Charlton Comics, an independent company that distributed their own product.  Charlton was started by two ex-convicts named John Santangelo and Edward Levy. Santangelo was an Italian immigrant who worked as a brick layer and masonry contractor. He first began publishing unauthorized lyrics to famous songs (for his soon to be wife) and made enough to quit his job. He would discover the hard way that America had copyright laws and would end up in the slammer. While there he met Edward Levy who was a disbarred attorney who was involved in a billing scandal. The two became friends, got out of prison at roughly the same time and made a handshake deal to go into legit publishing together.

The original logo – an early Charlton attempt at an educational book

Edward was able to get the rights to publish lyrics legally and John would hire people and handle the publishing aspect. The company would buy an old printing press that was typically used to print cereal boxes and would also set up their own distribution network. This made Charlton Comics quite unique as they were very much a “done in one” publisher. They did everything from buying the paper to print on, hiring the people to create the magazines, to delivering the magazines to the newsstands. But like any printing presses, it cost a lot of money to not have the presses rolling. It’s very likely that they got into comic books as a way to print something in between their magazine runs. No doubt they probably also recognized the popularity of comic books and were hoping to cash in. Based in Derby, Connecticut, Charlton was known as a low rent business that paid the lowest page rates, and whose quality control was the worst in the business. It was also known for having a very loose editorial policy that left the artists alone.

Comic by Edward Levy, the indicia soon read Charlton – New S&K at Carlton

Joe recalls, “Charlton was the last port of call for a publishing enterprise on the verge of going under. Santangelo and company were usually willing to continue publication of failing magazines or comic books, taking over the printing, engraving, and distribution at their own plant….and eventually taking over, period.

“When Leader News, our Mainline Publications distributor had failed, Jack Kirby and I turned to Charlton as a last opportunity to continue publishing our line of comic books. We made frequent trips to their plant in Connecticut where the highlight of the day was a tasty Italian lunch at the executive table of the employee’s spacious cafeteria. When the noon whistle blew, the printing crew, mostly Italian immigrants who spoke little or no English, gulped down a hasty sandwich and then retired to an adjacent construction site where they picked up their masonry tools and continued putting up new buildings, a project that seemed endless. After the lunch hour, the men returned to the printing shop to resume their regular work. Kirby and I made a small living at Charlton for a couple years and then went the way of other patrons. Out.

Joe’s memory is somewhat faulty; S&K Charlton work only lasted less than one year. What was never explained was why Joe didn’t take the Mainline titles to Crestwood, or Harvey. Joe decided to chuck the brushes and head to advertising.

The problems of Leader News and some other small distributors left a gaping hole, which Charlton was glad to fill. In 1954, Charlton went shopping, picking up the low hanging fruit. Besides Mainline, they also picked up titles from Superior, St. John, and Fawcett Publications. Besides the four Mainline titles, S&K also produced a new title called Win-A-Prize. This odd anthology title was an amalgam comic book and prize catalog with prizes awarded for all types of contests and reader contributions mixed in with some surprisingly good comic tales. Only two issues were published. They also produced one issue of From Here To Insanity, a humor title in the Mad Magazine vein.

Back to humor and parody

Joe and Jack produced two final issues of each of the four Mainline titles for Charlton before closing down the studio for good. It was a sad ending to the greatest team of comic creators ever seen. Fifteen years of unparalleled innovation and entertainment ending as collateral damage of the social wars fighting for the souls of our youth. Jack recalls those years fondly “It was a wonderful time to work in the field-if you neglect the financial problems. I wouldn’t class the fifties as the greatest period in comics–it was, to be frank, a really ugly period. Ugly clothes, cars, people. But it was a time when the most productive people in comics were still in the field. Marvin Stein was with us-he was a first rate man and one of the best artists we had. Mort Meskin was at his height. Steve Ditko was blossoming out and doing fine work. There were still writers and artists around….Good ones. It was certainly akin to working a Renaissance period.

The age of post-atomic comics had begun.

The cause of freedom does not run smooth, often it feels like a one step forward, two steps back proposition. But occasionally a big step happens that can never be walked back. On May 14, 1954, in a historic decision, the Supreme Court in one fell swoop ended the decades long tyranny of the Jim Crow laws. Plessy v Ferguson was no more. Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimore lawyer convinced the high court that separate could never be equal, and all people were in society together. Clashes became more frequent as State governments attempted to stop black students from public education, and forced the Federal branch to enforced the new equal education standards. Suddenly public faces like Orval Faubus, Bull Mongomery, and George Wallace showed the world what had once been the dark secret of Southern life. But the dark underbelly remained.

September of ’55 found the country’s attention riveted to the small backwater town of Money, Mississippi. A body had been fished out of the brackish Tallahatchie River. A black body beaten and decomposed so badly that identification was made by way of an initial ring on one of his fingers. The body was identified as that of Emmett Till, a 14 year-old black Chicago boy who was visiting relatives in Mississippi for the summer. The last thing his mother told him before putting him on the bus was that in the South black people had to act different to the white folks and if they tell him to bow and scrape, then he better bow and scrape and look happy doing it.

with his mom in happier days

One day Emmett was playing with his friends and was bragging about how in Chicago he played with white kids, and in fact, he had a white girl friend. His friends oohed and ahhed, and challenged him to go inside and speak up the young white girl behind the counter. Emmett was up to any challenge and went inside, bought a piece of candy and as he left he flirted with the girl. The friends were agog, but there was no immediate response. No one thought anything about it until three nights later Roy Bryant, the owner of the store, and J.W. Milam, his brother-in-law, broke into Emmett’s Uncle’s house and drove off with Emmett. The young girl was Roy Bryant’s new wife, and in Mississippi, no black boy could talk fresh to a young white girl without punishment.

They drove Emmett out to the riverside and brutally beat him, crushing in his head and gouging one eye completely out. After one last act of defiance—or stupidity—Roy Bryant shot young Emmett in the head. They bound his body in barbed wire, weighted him down with a gin mill fan and dumped him in the river.

The body was fished out three days later, and subsequently identified as that of Emmett Till, who had been reported abducted three days earlier by his Uncle. Bryant and Milam were quickly arrested for murder and the stunned nation was in an uproar. The young boy was quickly made into a martyr for the Civil Rights movement and the Northern press berated the South and its Jim Crow ways unmercifully. At first even the local townsfolk were aghast at the crime and neither Bryant nor Milam could get legal representation, but as the press storm continued, the Mississippians began fighting back. Suddenly the defendants had lawyers fighting to represent them.

The defense’s case was based on the problems with identifying the body, that no one could be sure if the body was that of Emmett Till—despite the initialed ring on his hand. But the defense theory was really a ruse. They knew that the all-white jurors wanted to free the two men, but they needed something—anything to which they could hang their case. Defense attorney John C. Whitten told the jurors in his closing statement, “Your fathers will turn over in their graves if [Milam and Bryant are found guilty] and I’m sure that every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men in the face of that [outside] pressure.” The poor condition of the the body was enough of a straw to grasp and after just an hours deliberation, they found the men innocent.

His mother moaned; “Have you ever sent a loved son on vacation and had him returned to you in a pine box, so horribly battered and water-logged that someone needs to tell you this sickening sight is your son“

The Northern press and black leaders were aghast at the decision and quickly mobilized protests, and civil rights volunteers quickly spread around the area trying to calm the black workers of the area. They knew one thing, and that is that one incident like this was bad, but worse, it emboldened other white racists to imitate their actions knowing that they were immune to prosecution. Nothing scared the black populace more than the idea of copycat murders. One lynching usually led to three, four, or more similar occurrences. It was like a bad weed, pull one, and a dozen more sprout up. Every redneck with a grudge now had an avenue to vent his frustrations and bile.

It had been a while since the Civil Rights movement had such a noteworthy face to put on prejudice and injustice. Emmett’s age and Chicago roots were just the ingredient needed to rile up the millions of blacks who had fled the South and remind them that Southern blacks were their brothers. For the first time, northern blacks saw that violence against blacks in the South could affect them in the North. In Mamie Bradley’s words, “Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, `That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong. I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.” Blacks, in the North as well as in the South, would not easily forget the murder of Emmett Till.

Just as Leo Frank’s murder had united Jews against bigotry and prejudice, Emmett Till became the brutalized face of the Black movement demanding their rights. 1955 would be just the first of many a long hot summer in the U.S.

Far too often these singular acts of evil soon fade and blow away, overshadowed by new problems and events but Emmett’s blood seeped into the soil and gave root to a whole spectrum of new offshoots. In Montgomery Alabama, the new Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became galvanized to avenge this slaughter and change this country. He started to talk out and preach a whole new strategy of love and non-violence aimed at changing the tone of the country. A young black woman on her way home from work refused to give up her seat on the bus and was summarily arrested for civil disobedience. Rosa Parks was outraged by young Emmett’s death and had joined the local Montgomery NAACP; she had attended talks given by this new young Pastor and had decided enough was enough. Following her arrest, a new policy of striking back took place when Dr. King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The strike went nationwide and suddenly the black populace had a voice. The eyes of the nation focused on this problem and the violence and led the Court to overturn Alabama’s cruel Jim Crow laws.

A young black man, newly recruited to the Black Muslim crusade, was transformed by Emmett’s death. In prison for rape, the Oakland Ca. native fed his reactionary furor. Two days after discovering the tragedy of young Emmett Till, Eldridge Cleaver had a “nervous breakdown” and “began to look at America through new eyes.” Always entranced by white women, his attitude toward white women changed radically, he suggested. “Somehow I arrived at the conclusion, that as a matter of principle, it was of paramount importance for me to have an antagonistic, ruthless attitude toward white women.”

Using this outrage as a recruiting tool, the Nation of Islam grew from 15 temples in 1955, to over 40 in 1960. The small radical violent offshoot of the Islam religion soon became a large militant alternative for blacks who had grown tired of never fighting back.

Another young revolutionary used Emmett Till’s death as a launching pin to unite the black populace in the cause of Islam. Malcolm X would become perhaps the most feared and famous black leader of the late 50’s and early 60’s; only Martin Luther King came close.

In Louisville, Kentucky a young 15 year old boy playing with some friends saw a newspaper with the story of Emmett Till’s death; complete with the horrid picture of the mutilated body in the open coffin. The young black boy was not a novice to Southern reality, but this new abomination steeled a new radicalism and resolve into his hardening heart.

“Emmett Till and I were about the same age. A week after he was murdered… I stood on the corner with a gang of boys, looking at pictures of him in the black newspapers and magazines. In one, he was laughing and happy. In the other, his head was swollen and bashed in, his eyes bulging out of their sockets and his mouth twisted and broken. His mother had done a bold thing. She refused to let him be buried until hundreds of thousands marched past his open casket in Chicago and looked down at his mutilated body. [I] felt a deep kinship to him when I learned he was born the same year and day I was. My father talked about it at night and dramatized the crime. I couldn’t get Emmett out of my mind…” – Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali)

A somewhat younger southern boy responded differently, seeing this as a learning experience and life warning.

“It was Monday morning when my family got the word about the death of Emmett Till. I was barely two years younger than he and in the South for one of the first times that I was old enough to remember. My mother was particularly disturbed by the incident and spent most of the morning counseling me on “being careful,” a non-specific term which at the time I took to mean watching out for traffic on unfamiliar country roads….

On subsequent trips to the region I was “more careful.” I was also more apprehensive about being there. I was never sure what to do when in contact with Southern whites, and therefore I tried as much as possible never to make such contacts. My personal experience and the story of Emmett Till, which I read in great and gory detail upon my return North, served to confirm my notion that the South and its white people were different and dangerous…. I wondered if I would ever understand these people and their society. The need to understand encouraged my graduate study of Southern history…” – James Horton (historian)

Despite warnings from friends that talking out could hurt his career and legacy, Superstar Jackie Robinson replied; “If I had to choose tomorrow between the Baseball Hall of Fame and full citizenship for my people I would choose full citizenship time and again.” Jackie would begin circling the South giving speeches and voicing his concerns. His popularity was such that he even outsold Dr. King as civil rights speaker.

Perhaps cynically, some have suggested that this event was perfect for the new medium of TV. For the first time, nationwide news stations sent mobile teams to cover a local story. The name Emmett Till became known from New England to California’s sunny shore.

The Civil Rights movement finally had a moment that transformed the whole black population, and with it, the nation.

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Jack Kirby : A Life In Comics

(I was honored to have been asked by the folks at Comic-Con International: San Diego to write a Jack Kirby biography for their convention program this year. I expanded it slightly, and it forms the main narrative of the Kirby Museum’s “Jack Kirby: 100 Years” pop up in NYC. – Rand.)

Creator • Storyteller • Visionary • Artist

Born and raised on the Lower East Side, Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) created or co-created some of the most enduring characters and stories in comics (Captain America, Avengers, Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Darkseid, among hundreds of others). In addition to revolutionizing such comic book genres as crime, war and superheroes, Kirby also co-invented romance comics with his partner Joe Simon. Kirby’s 1960s work with Marvel’s Stan Lee (who dubbed Kirby “King”) may be his most well-known. Another Kirby legacy is that he almost single handedly defined the visual language of comic books with his dynamic page layouts portraying exaggerated anatomy, heartfelt emotion, explosive movement, and cosmic wonder. Kirby died in 1994 at age 76. Evidence of his work and influence surrounds us today, not only in comics, but also in television and movies

In The Beginning…

In August of 1917, Rose and Ben Kurtzberg, two immigrants from Galicia in what what is now Poland welcomed their first born, Jacob. In the early 20th century, New York City’s Lower East Side was the most densely populated two square miles on the planet. Ben sewed pants in sweatshops. Rose did piecework at home when not raising her sons.

Lower East Side kids played in the streets, and fighting was a favorite pastime. Kirby’s gang, the Jewish kids of Suffolk St. would take on the Italian kids from another block, or the African-American kids from yet another block. Jake was small in stature, and once had to rescue his younger brother David from an attack by a rival gang. Jake recalled it happening in slow-motion, as if choreographing the whole fight in his head. Jake loved fighting so much that he once took a long subway trip to the Bronx to see if they fought any differently there.

Rose’s extended family were storytellers. Jake grew up hearing stories about demi-gods, werewolves, and vampires, learning about them long before they appeared in the movie theaters that were everywhere on the Lower East Side.  At 14 Jake found a science fiction pulp magazine in a rain drenched gutter. The image on the cover changed him forever. He took the magazine home, read it, and it fueled his interest in drawing. The stories in the magazine reminded him of the tales his mother and her friends told, but with new, hopeful, futuristic trappings. He began reading as much as he could, something he had to hide from his buddies, and took how-to-draw  books out from the library.

Jake met his “second father” Harry Slonaker around this time. Slonaker graduated from the Boys’ Brotherhood Republic in Chicago and was assigned to New York City to start one there. The BBR helped boys in the worst neighborhoods learn responsibility and useful skills, and it had its own rules, government, and even media. Jake took up boxing and became the cartoonist on the BBR newspaper, which he signed with the name “Jack”.

While Jack’s mother wasn’t going to let him follow neighborhood hero, actor John Garfield (nee Jacob Garfinkle), to Hollywood, his time as an office boy in a newspaper cartoonist’s office  showed him there was another way out of the ghetto. Most of his pals saw careers as  policemen, a politicians, or gangsters in their future.

Jack stayed less than a week in an art class at the Pratt Institute. Not only wasn’t he the kind of artist they wanted – he worked fast – but his father lost his job, and Jack dropped out of school entirely to find work.

After a brief stint as a newsboy, Jack found work at the Fleischer Brothers animation studio, working on Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons as an inbetweener, filling in the necessary number of drawings to complete the illusion of movement. Jack’s steady work allowed the Kurtzbergs to move from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn.

Jack’s time with the Fleischers was short lived. The environment reminded him too much of the sweatshops where his father worked, and the studio was relocating to Florida. He found work with some small newspaper syndicates, preparing his strips (Socko The Seadog, Your Health Comes First) at home on the kitchen table. One series, “The Romance Of Money” didn’t get syndicated, but was collected as a small pamphlet for savings banks as a giveaway. Arguably, The Romance Of Money is Jack’s first comic book.

Kirby Comic Books Begin!

With the success of Superman in 1938, there was a tremendous demand for new, original comic book content. Jack found his way to the Eisner-Iger Studio, preparing stories in a similar fashion to the single pages appearing in Sunday newspapers. Soon, he and his boss Will Eisner realized they were working in an entirely new, multi page art form. Eisner recalled one incident where Jack got in the faces of mobsters who were shaking down the studio for a towel service payment. The goons left.

Unfortunately, Jack came up against too much of that “sweatshop” approach again at Eisner-Iger, and soon found work as a staff artist in the office of Victor Fox, where he drew the first four weeks of the Blue Beetle newspaper strip. While at Fox, Jack hit it off with Joe Simon, and the two began collaborating on Blue Bolt. Simon & Kirby quickly produced Red Raven Comics for Martin Goodman at Timely, which contained a Comet Pierce story where Jack first signed his name as “Jack Kirby.”

Jack soon left Fox to work with Simon exclusively, and moved his family to a nicer apartment in Brooklyn. There, he met his upstairs neighbor, and future wife, Rosalind Goldstein.

Simon & Kirby produced Captain America, and the first cover featured the patriotic hero punching Adolf Hitler in the face. Published in late 1940, a year before the U.S.A. entered the war, the cover was a stark declaration of intent, and the book was a smash hit. Kirby’s choreographed action sequences were a main selling point. At one point, the Nazi-sympathizing group the American Bund were making threatening phone calls to the Simon & Kirby team. When they called again, Kirby went downstairs to confront them, but they weren’t there.

Also for Goodman, they took two superhero sidekicks, Bucky and Toro, teamed them with four non-super-powered kids and created the Young Allies, the first kid gang. While still on staff at Timely, Kirby, Simon, and several inkers produced Captain Marvel Adventures #1 for Fawcett, uncredited, over a weekend. It became one of the top sellers of its time.

The Simon & Kirby Team & WW2

The Simon & Kirby team had such success with Captain America and their Captain Marvel one-shot that when they discovered Goodman wasn’t paying them the agreed percentage of revenue, they quickly moved to National Comics, home of Superman. They revamped existing features Sandman and Manhunter, while Kirby’s youth inspired them to create the Boy Commandos and the Newsboy Legion. In 1942, the bickering Boy Commandos received their own title which was only outsold by National’s Superman and Batman comics. That same year, Jacob Kurtzberg legally changed his name to Jack Kirby, and married Rosalind.

In the midst of this success, World War II was looming. Jack was drafted into the infantry in June of 1943. In August 1944, Kirby arrived in Normandy, France and was sent to Verdun to join General Patton’s Army on its rapid offensive eastward. His division was sent to south of Metz to rid the area of German resistance. Taking advantage of Kirby’s drawing skill and his knowledge of the German dialect Yiddish, Kirby’s commander sent him into enemy territory to scout and draw up detailed maps.

Kirby’s war experiences were more brutal, horrifying, and violent than anything he experienced on the mean streets of the Lower East Side. His time in combat had a profound effect on him. Since storytelling was such a part of his personality, he shared war stories for the rest of his life. Eventually, Kirby contracted trench foot, and nearly needed both feet amputated. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Roz, at least, expressed that losing his drawing hand would have been much worse.

In January 1945, Kirby made his way back stateside to North Carolina and was honorably discharged in July with several honors including the Bronze Battle Star. In December 1945, Roz and Jack’s first child, Susan, was born.

After The War – The 1950s

With the war behind them, the Simon & Kirby team got back to work, producing the short-lived Stuntman and Boy Explorers for Al Harvey. But action heroes and kid gangs didn’t sell like they used to. Comic books had been popular with soldiers overseas, but now that they were home, they had more reading choices.

By 1947, the team was trying their hand at other genres; crime comics, funny animals, and teen humor. “True Romance” pulp magazines had been selling well to both teen and adult women for a while, so through Crestwood/Prize, Simon & Kirby’s Young Romance, the first romance comic, debuted that summer to great success. After two lucrative years producing romance comics and with growing families, the Kirbys and the Simons moved into houses across the street from each other in the suburbs of Long Island’s Nassau County.

In 1953, Simon & Kirby started their own publishing company – Mainline Comics. Unfortunately, the corrupt newsstand business was collapsing, and social forces that had been building for years came to a head with the publication of Fredric Wertham’s book, Seduction Of The Innocent, which claimed comic books were corrupting America’s children. Subsequently, horror and crime comics were chased off the market, and comic book creators were stigmatized. Comic book quality experienced a sharp decline, with all offerings assuredly safe for the youngest kids.

Eventually, Joe Simon left the team for more lucrative and secure work in advertising and marketing for political campaigns. Kirby brought the team’s Challengers of the Unknown to National (DC), and started working for Goodman (Atlas) again. He also worked up a number of comic strip proposals. Eventually, through a connection made by Jack Schiff, an editor at DC, Kirby, with writers Ed and Dave Wood, began a newspaper strip that capitalized on the nascent space race, Sky Masters Of The Space Force. With inking by Wallace Wood, the strips were beautiful.

Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding of the financial arrangement with Schiff, and what Schiff felt was Kirby’s using ideas from story conferences for Challengers Of The Unknown in Sky Masters, Schiff sued Kirby. Kirby lost. He continued the strip for a while, but the financial arrangement made it a losing proposition, so he quit. He’d also lost DC as a client.

Jack soon found more work under Atlas editor Stan Lee, mostly on monster and science fiction stories. Simon and Kirby teamed up briefly at Archie Comics on The Double Life of Private Strong and The Adventures of the Fly. Kirby even worked briefly for Classics Illustrated.

The Marvelous 1960s

Inspired by his success with starting Challengers Of The Unknown at DC, the slight success of the Archie heroes, and his son Neal’s interests, Kirby felt the time was again ripe for superheroes. Soon enough, Goodman and Lee saw what was happening at DC with the Justice League of America, and decided that Kirby was right. Lee had Kirby take one of his monster stories featuring some adventurers, and give them superpowers. Thus was born Marvel Comics as we know it, with The Fantastic Four.

Kirby’s vivid imagination, his heartfelt humanity, his love of science fiction and mythology, and his amazing dynamic visual storytelling all coalesced in his work for Lee and Marvel when he was in his 40s.

Kirby continued to pitch heroes. Lee had been publishing monster comics, so how about a monster as a lead character, the Hulk? A scientist from a previous story became Ant-Man. Mythology was one of Kirby’s favorites, so Norse god Thor came next. An urban hero who walked on walls came next, with Kirby bringing in a logo from the Simon & Kirby studio days in the early 1950s – Spiderman. Steve Ditko ended up with the assignment.

Next came Iron Man, with the origin drawn by Don Heck; Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, a grown up Boy Commandos; X-Men, a science fiction-based kid gang; and the Avengers, a bickering group of adult heroes. Kirby even had a hand in the creation of Daredevil, evoking his earlier Stuntman. In response to the assassination of President Kennedy, Lee and Kirby revived Captain America.

Marvel’s sales picked up. Lee’s snappy dialogue combined with Kirby’s stories, as well as the familiar, fan club-like tone of Marvel’s editorial copy kept the baby boomers reading comics into their teens and college years. Soon, Kirby was producing so many stories for Lee, that it became more expedient to eschew story conferences before the art was drawn. They’d briefly discuss the next issue, and Kirby would return with a fully drawn story, and describe to Lee what was happening. When even this became too time consuming, Kirby would include story notes on the edges of his artwork for Lee to use while preparing the dialogue script for the letterer.

In one notable example, Lee and Kirby had discussed having the antagonist be “The Big G” – a euphemism for God. Kirby knew that such a powerful, threatening force would be preceded by… a scout, whom he cosmically depicted as a surfer of the spaceways. Lee loved Kirby’s new character, and dubbed him the Silver Surfer. Audiences’ minds were blown.

Goodman started licensing Marvel characters out, which led  to Steve Ditko’s departure since Goodman wasn’t including him in licensing revenue. As a result, Lee tried to strengthen his relationship with Kirby, agreeing to a profile of he and Kirby by the NY Herald-Tribune. Unfortunately, the profile failed. The writer admired Lee’s P.T. Barnum-like chicanery, and denigrated Kirby’s appearance and manner. Upset, Kirby kept producing stories and characters for Lee, but not for long. On one Fantastic Four story where Kirby introduced a new character, Him, Lee ignored the notes, and changed Kirby’s theme. After that, Kirby only delivered stories containing already existing characters.

Full Rein

Kirby couldn’t stop creating new concepts, though. He just kept them to himself. When Goodman sold Marvel to Perfect Film, a more corporate entity, Kirby was stung by the new owner not wanting to negotiate a contract. Kirby felt the need to break out of his situation, so he moved his family to Southern California and began talking to Carmine Infantino at DC.

Infantino, a long ago Kirby protege who had successfully updated Batman for the readers brought in by the TV show, was rising in the editorial ranks. For DC to have an artist in the editorial office was unprecedented, and Infantino was looking to innovate. Once Jack Schiff retired, Infantino was free to bring Kirby aboard. Infantino had wanted Kirby to revamp Superman, but Kirby only took on the Jimmy Olsen series, adding an updated Newsboy Legion to the cast (Olsen was a newsboy, after all). Kirby pitched a new science fiction mythology that filled three ongoing series, but unlike his time at Marvel, he retained creative and editorial control, eventually bringing in California resident Mike Royer to provide inking and lettering.

The New Gods, Mister Miracle, and the Forever People, his “Fourth World” comics, were unfettered Kirby at the top of his game, making comics for everyone, not just kids or teenagers.

Unfortunately, the newsstand business was still corrupt, with distributors selling fan favorite comics like Kirby’s to comic dealers to sell at conventions without reporting those sales to the publishers. As a result, the sales reports for Kirby’s comics were disappointing. Infantino then asked Kirby for a horror comic, like the movies that were then in vogue, and a kids comic to capture the popularity of the Planet Of The Apes movie series. Jack delivered The Demon and Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth. Kamandi became Jack’s longest running series for DC. But as the end of his DC contract neared, Kirby was unsatisfied with his prospects there.

A Return to Marvel and Cartoons

In 1976, Kirby returned to Marvel and Captain America. He also created the Eternals, Machine Man, the Black Panther, Devil Dinosaur, and an adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. At the end of his two year deal, he worked with Lee on a Silver Surfer graphic novel in the hopes it would be turned into a rock musical movie.

In 1978 Kirby was commissioned by producer Barry Ira Geller to design the sets for a movie based on Roger Zelazny’s science fiction novel Lord Of Light. Geller’s idea was for the sets to act as a theme park called Science Fiction Land once shooting was complete. Royer inked the pieces to perfection. The movie and theme park weren’t to be

At this point. Kirby had enough of comic books, and found work in the production of television cartoons for children. He finished his contract with Marvel by storyboarding Fantastic Four cartoons. He designed characters, props, and situations for Ruby-Spears, sometimes for existing shows like the Kamandi-like Thundarr The Barbarian, but mostly for presentation pitches for new shows. Kirby made some of the best income of his life, and for the first time, even had health insurance benefits.

The Last Kirby Comic Books

In 1981, Kirby returned to comic books with the first issue of Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers. Published by Pacific Comics, Captain Victory and Silver Star were the first Kirby comics that bypassed newsstands for the comic book “Direct Market”.

In 1983, while having a dinner with publisher Richard Kyle, Roz encouraged Kirby to change the subject from WW2, and tell a story about growing up on the Lower East Side. Kyle commissioned Kirby to draw “Street Code”, Kirby’s only explicitly autobiographical work.

To raise money for writer Steve Gerber’s lawsuit against Marvel over the rights to Howard The Duck, Kirby drew Gerber’s Destroyer Duck story pro bono. The comic was so successful, Kirby and Gerber would produce four more issues. After the last issues of Captain Victory and Silver Star, Kirby returned to DC to provide covers and editorial material for a new edition of  New Gods. Among other things, he also produced the graphic novel The Hunger Dogs, bringing his Fourth World saga to a close.

In 1984, the comics publishers were realizing that it was in their best interest to return the original art they had been warehousing for years to the artists. Marvel sent a brief release for the artwork to all the artists except Kirby. To him, they sent a four page document with excessive stipulations. Kirby tried to negotiate, but to no avail. His situation gained serious notice in the comics community, who put significant pressure on Marvel to return Kirby’s art as they had to other artists. In 1987 Marvel complied.

Jack and Roz celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1992 surrounded by family and friends. Kirby died the morning of February 6th, 1994 in his hilltop home in Thousand Oaks, California.

All this time, throughout their life together, Jack and Roz attended comic book conventions and welcomed fans into their home. They loved their fellow fans of comics, science fiction, mythology, romance, and action, encouraged them to live their own lives to the fullest, and to tell their own stories. The high profile of comics in our culture today is a testament to the Kirbys’ positive energy, love, and commitment.